France has moved one step closer to banning short-haul flights in an attempt to lower carbon emissions. Recently, French lawmakers voted in favour of a bill to end routes where the same journey could be made by train in under two-and-a-half hours. Connecting flights will not be affected, however.
The planned measures, which are part of a broader climate bill that aims to cut French carbon emissions by 40% in 2030 from 1990 levels, will face a further vote in the Senate before becoming law.
The measures could affect travel between Paris and cities including Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux.
France's Citizens' Convention on Climate, which was created by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and included 150 members of the public, had proposed scrapping plane journeys where train journeys of under four hours existed.
But this was reduced to two-and-a-half hours after objections from some regions, and the airline industry.
The vote came days after the state said it would contribute to a $4.76bn recapitalisation of Air France, more than doubling its stake in the flagcarrier, to shore up its finances after more than a year of Covid-19 travel curbs.
Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher dismissed criticism from the aviation industry that a pandemic recovery was not the time to ban some domestic flights, Reuters said and noted there was no contradiction between the bailout and the climate bill.
“We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions,” she told Europe 1 radio. “Equally, we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside.”
Undoubtedly, the global aviation industry is a net emitter and airlines produce huge quantities of carbon dioxide.
Aviation was one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions before the coronavirus pandemic brought global travel to a halt. In 2019, the sector produced about 2% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, according to industry group ATAG.
Air travel is also said to be the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make. For instance, a passenger taking flight from New York to London and back reportedly emits more emissions than an average person in Paraguay over the course of an entire year.
The global trade body of airlines – IATA attests to the fact that commercial aviation is responsible for about 2-3% of global carbon emissions.
That being said, the timing of the proposed legislation has set alarm bells ringing with industry captains arguing they been accused of environment pollution, unfairly.
IATA recognises the need to address the global challenge of climate change and adopted a set of ambitious targets to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport.
These include an average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% a year from 2009 to 2020, a cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth) and a reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
The association says it is determined to be part of the solution, but insists that in order to achieve these targets; a strong commitment is required from all stakeholders working together through the four pillars of the aviation industry strategy.
These include improved technology, including the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels, more efficient aircraft operations, infrastructure improvements, including modernised air traffic management systems and a single global market-based measure, to fill the remaining emissions gap.
The air travel industry still reels from the global pandemic with website Flightradar24 reporting that the number of flights last year were down almost 42% from 2019.
Air traffic may not return to pre-crisis levels before 2024, McKinsey analysts forecast.
While environmental choice must take precedence, we should not lose sight of the fact that a robust aviation industry is absolutely essential for global economic recovery.
Also, some experts say actual emissions’ savings through a ban on short-haul flights will not be significant.
The airline industry boosts competition and trade, facilitates business interactions and much-needed foreign investments, and encourages new experiences and the exchange of know-how, worldwide.
Its role is critical in the time-sensitive and effective distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, the world’s biggest hope in the fight against the pandemic, to countries and regions around the world.
The high value of these shipments and the need for maintaining sensitive carriage conditions mean air cargo has a crucial role to play in their distribution as well.
Pratap John is Business Editor at Gulf Times. Twitter handle: @PratapJohn