THE BLOG

All This Flying is Making that Sunny Beach Holiday a Little Too Hot

22/08/2013 11:20 BST | Updated 21/10/2013 10:12 BST

Flying this summer? Who isn't. But I hate to be the bearer of bad news as you sit on the beach reading this: all these flights are having a real impact on our climate.

Who doesn't love to fly, though? Especially right now, in the middle of the summer holiday season, people are jetting off to sunny beaches or going to see their loved ones in far-off places. With discounted fares and more flights to more destinations than ever before, jumping on a jet and flying off somewhere is easier than ever.

The thing is though, that all this flying is disrupting our climate and our atmosphere.

Aviation is the fastest growing source of climate change pollution. It is responsible for about 5% of all global warming to date, with its share projected to keep growing. If aviation were a country, it would be the 7th largest emitter, ranked between the UK and Japan.

Flying less is an obvious way to slow down the effects of climate change, but in fact we are all flying more - including the growing middle classes in large developing economies like China and India. There are large-scale market-based solutions, like emissions trading, that airlines could put in place right now that would begin to reduce aviation's climate impact. The problem is that when it comes to a market-based solution, not everyone agrees.

The airline industry and governments have struggled for more than 17 years now to come to a global agreement on how to address the emissions from international aviation. Talks about what to do centre around the United Nation's body responsible for international aviation (the International Civil Aviation Organisation or ICAO).

In 2008, frustrated with the lack of progress in ICAO, the European Union decided to make airlines operating in the EU pay for the climate pollution they were dumping into our air. From 2012 the EU's aviation carbon trading system required that airlines pay for every ton of carbon emitted by all flights in and out of the EU. Many airlines and governments were not happy, claiming that such action could only be taken at a global level after global agreement. (This global agreement was still out of sight after 16 years of negotiation.) A huge international outcry developed, orchestrated by the American airline industry and their counterparts in Europe: Lufthansa and Airbus. The Obama administration sided with China, India and others, and before the first year was up, the EU's plan to charge a pollution fee on international flights to and from the EU was put on hold in order to give ICAO yet more time to reach a global deal.

Talks this year in ICAO have largely mirrored the stalemate over the past 17 years, and will culminate this autumn, when the ICAO Assembly meets to consider whether it can agree to impose a global market-based solution on all carriers. If ICAO fails to agree, the EU will be faced with partially or wholly reinstating its plans to charge a pollution fee, which may lead to renewed international controversy. All this while aviation emissions continue to have a direct impact on rising ocean levels and global temperature changes, which means that that beach you're on right now might not make such an attractive holiday destination a few years down the line.