Should Air Travelers Help Pay for the Poor’s Climate Change Woes?

Travel Blog  •  Joanna Kakissis  •  06.10.09 | 3:16 PM ET

Photo by retromoderns via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s been a vexing question since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that air travel is the world’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Some 16,000 commercial jet aircraft produce more than 700 million tons of CO2 every year, the IPCC says. Though air travel accounts for between two and four percent of global warming attributed to human activities, that amount is expected to grow to 15 percent in 50 years.

Meanwhile, 45 million people are starving or malnourished because of climate change-spurred droughts, floods and other natural disasters. The Global Humanitarian Forum, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says 300,000 people a year die because of climate change and that number will reach 500,000 annually by 2030. As negotiators prepare for a major climate summit in Copenhagen this December, they are also trying to figure out how developed countries (who produce the bulk of carbon emissions) can help save developing countries (who are suffering the most because of global warming). Taxing air travel is a favorite idea.

The aviation tax—which, by the way, is very controversial—came up again this week in Bonn, where policymakers and negotiators from 192 countries are immersed in the latest round of pre-Copenhagen climate talks. Representatives from the world’s 50 least-developed countries are pushing for the aviation levy, or a compulsory fee on international plane tickets and shipping fuel. Proponents say the levy would increase the price of fares by less than one percent and would raise some $10 billion that go to an adaptation fund. The airline tax could be coupled with a surcharge on international shipping fuel.

Using proceeds from an air travel tax to pay for poor countries’ climate change adaptation isn’t really a new concept. It’s also still totally hated by the airline industry, which is suffering financially (it’s expected to lose about $9 billion in the next year). “We have seen so many taxes that we are fed up,” International Air Transport chief executive Giovanni Bisignani told The Guardian. Instead, industry execs are trying to come up with emission-cutting plans, including a new cap-and-trade proposal by a group of foreign airlines and the nonprofit business-oriented Climate Group.

So far, it’s like the two sides—airlines and climate justice advocates—are shouting across a vast, seemingly unbridgeable divide. Like I said, it’s a vexing issue. Should the airlines pay? And if they don’t, who should?


Joanna Kakissis's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, among other publications. A contributor to the World Hum blog, she's currently a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder.


1 Comment for Should Air Travelers Help Pay for the Poor’s Climate Change Woes?

Bilety lotnicze 06.15.09 | 9:06 AM ET

hmm government vs IATA - yea I bet I know who will win. Lets face it the more money they can drain the better - in the end it will still be the end user who gets hit - be it the traveler who pays or the malnourished who still gets nothing out of this..

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