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As scientists, we are appalled at the government’s support for the polluting airline industry

Situations vacant: Flybe has a shortage of pilots and cabin crew: Flybe

We write as scientists who are appalled at the support of this government for the high-carbon emissions airline industry, and the grossly misleading statements made by Matt Hancock to justify this bailout.

On 15 January, the health minister communicated his unqualified support for the airline industry on BBC Radio 5 live, and claimed that dealing with the climate emergency does not require any change in our demand for flying. These positions are at odds with the scientific evidence and the need for deep and immediate reductions in the UK’s emissions. Moreover, the minister’s claim that “flying has already decarbonised” is categorically wrong.

While aircraft efficiency is slowly improving, any benefits are being outstripped by ongoing growth in the sector and hence the emissions continue to rise both absolutely and relative to other sectors.

Flying already constitutes 10 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions and is predicted to rise by 300 per cent by 2050 unless urgent action is taken. The government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has stated that “[t]here are currently no commercially available zero-carbon planes. This is likely to continue to be the case out to 2050, particularly for long-haul flights, which are responsible for the majority of aviation emissions.”

Matt Hancock clearly has no grasp of the huge technical challenges in decarbonising aviation or, following his comments on “electric planes”, any sense of the timeframe of responding to our commitments under the Paris Agreement. Not only is the prospect of electric planes dominating the long-haul market decades away, but they would require vast amounts of renewable electricity to support current and rising volumes of air travel – renewable electricity, which is urgently required to decarbonise other industrial sectors, such as road transport.

Pointing to a future speculative techno-fix is unfounded and irresponsible, because the science is extremely clear. Globally we must halve our emissions by 2030 to stay within 1.5 degrees of warming, and bring them to zero thereafter. However, the Paris Agreement obligates wealthier nations, such as the UK, to lead on this, requiring reductions in emissions at rates simply incompatible with flying-as-usual, let alone planned airport expansion.

The climate crisis is one of the largest ever threats to humanity. David Attenborough, among others, has warned that the UK must take radical action to meet its climate change targets. In order to do this, we will need to transform our economies completely, away from fossil-fuel energy and land-intensive products, towards low-carbon and efficient ones.

Any government statement that such a transformation can be done without affecting our consumption is without a basis in reality. More and more research demonstrates that reducing energy demand holds the key to rapid emissions reductions. These scenarios do not rely, as do many others (including the CCC’s Net Zero report), on large quantities of carbon removal from the atmosphere after it has been emitted (another speculative, costly and risky techno-fix). Even the CCC’s Net Zero report calls for reductions in transport energy as well as in meat consumption.

Instead of bailing out aviation, the most carbon-intensive form of transport, which is disproportionately used by the wealthiest sections of the population, the UK government should be investing heavily in low-carbon public transit for use by all of its citizens.

Subsidising short-haul flights (as the government has just done to the tune of £106m for the benefit of Flybe) and misleading the public on the necessary scale of action exacerbates the climate emergency rather than acting on it, and demonstrates a tragic failure of leadership – especially since the UK is hosting the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year.

Professor Julia Steinberger, University of Leeds
Dr Stuart Capstick, Cardiff University
Dr Milena Buchs, University of Leeds
Professor Kevin Anderson, University of Manchester
Professor Tim Jackson, University of Surrey

Dr James Dyke, University of Exeter


The US Senator Tom Cotton has tabled a bill to ban intelligence sharing with the UK if Britain goes ahead with installing Huawei telecoms equipment. Given that US intelligence failed to predict Pearl Harbour, Stalin’s atomic bomb, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks, it doesn’t sound like we’re missing much.

David Buttery
Douglas, Isle of Man

The final countdown

Of course Big Ben should ring out at midnight on 31 January. It should toll once for each year of our membership of the EU to mark the end of the greatness of Great Britain and the unity of the United Kingdom.

The date should henceforth be known as the Day of the Lemmings. I very much hope that in my lifetime I see the chief lemming replaced by a statesman who makes the effort required to understand all the issues that need to be addressed so urgently and who leads a team to develop policies that are properly thought through. Only then can we hope to restore the greatness and unity of our small kingdom.

Jon Hawksley

Boris in Scotland

The news that the prime minister of the UK will be in Scotland more frequently has already been met with predictable derision by the SNP.

Their Scotland is part of England’s “inner empire”. It helps to stoke up difference, and build the imagined community that they so desperately require, even though for large parts of Scotland’s existence, loyalty would have been familial rather than national. Their separatist Scotland isn’t one known to history.

However, it is quite easy to have a dual nationality of Scottish and British. Scotland has done well from the union and the UK has benefited handsomely through our industry and inventions (at least until the SNP’s reforms of the education system).

The PM has a bonhomie lacking in Scottish political culture at the moment. Hopefully, he can bring this north along with a gentle reminder of the benefits of the union.

David Bone
Girvan, South Ayrshire, Scotland

An end to pointless titles

Please could someone explain to me why Harry had to become the Duke of Sussex and William the Duke of Cambridge? I note that Harry is still going to be the Duke of Sussex if not an HRH. And why do we still have anachronistic things like Member of the British Empire. In the Netherlands, as far as I know, there is just one such title – the Oranje Lint. Why does Britain still need all these various titles? If we want equality in this country many of them ought to be scrapped.

Ian K Watson

Trump’s slogan or a new era

Just as Johnson’s meaningless Brexit blether morphed into “get it done”, Trump seems to have a new, ridiculous slogan.

At Trump’s neverending rallies, cries of “build the wall” and claims that Mexico will pay for the wall have fallen eerily silent. Even “lock her up” has lost its energy since the only people getting locked up are the endless line of Trump criminals.

Oddly – it sounds as if the new Trump slogan will be “Trump will make your dishwasher wetter”.

Amanda Baker
Edinburgh, Scotland

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