Saturday, 22 August 2009

Lord Adonis: We can cut greenhouse gas emissions without travelling less

Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, faced accusations of undermining the Government’s position on “green” taxes after saying it isn't necessary to tax people out of their cars and planes.

By Peter Foster in Beijing and James KirkupPublished: 7:00AM BST 21 Aug 2009
So-called environmental taxation is supposed to change people’s behaviour and make them consume less. But critics say ministers are using the environment as a cover for revenue-raising measures.
The Government raises billions of pounds every year from taxes levied on carbon-emitting activities including driving and flying, and is planning sharp rises in Air Passenger Duty. Ministers justify those taxes by saying they help cut emissions.

However Lord Adonis yesterday insisted “a hair-shirt approach” to climate change will not work. Forcing people to travel less will only turn voters against environmental policies, he said.
Speaking on a visit to Beijing, Lord Adonis, who took up his post in June, said emissions can be cut without forcing people to make personal sacrifices in their lifestyle.
“We’ll never sell a low-carbon future to the public if it depends on a deprivation model. I’m convinced that there’s no necessary trade-off between a low carbon future and more or less transport,” he said.
Instead, the minister suggested that low-carbon transport such as electric cars and a new generation of airliners could cut emissions without curbing travel.
“If you can radically cut emissions as a result of new transport technology it is not necessary to face people with an ‘either-or’ choice between a low carbon future and big cuts in travel.”
Brian Wilson, former Labour transport minister who now leads Flying Matters, a lobby group, said Lord Adonis had exposed the Government’s use of “green” taxes as a means of raising revenue.
Mr Wilson said: “Andrew Adonis’s comments are very sensible but they are at odds with other aspects of Government policy including the large rises in Air Passenger Duty under the cover of carbon reduction.”
Changes announced in the Budget this year mean that taxes on long-haul flights are set to rise by as much as 112 per cent next year. Tax on a flight to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia or Australasia will rise from £40 to £85.
APD is “a stealth tax with wings,” Mr Wilson said.
In a report that is disputed by the Treasury, the TaxPayers’ Alliance last year calculated that the Government made a net £24.2 billion gain from “green” taxes, and said that net revenues significantly exceed the economic costs of environmental damage.
Matthew Sinclair, Research Director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is great to hear a minister acknowledging that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions isn’t to stop ordinary Britons travelling. Unfortunately, while the Transport Secretary may have accepted that people need to get around, the Treasury are still charging a fortune in excessive green taxes, hitting everyone from motorists just trying to get to work to families enjoying a well-earned holiday.”
Lord Adonis was criticised by green groups.
Lily Kember, of Plane Stupid, an anti-flying group, said: “The idea that climate change won’t require any personal sacrifices is somewhat undermined by the fact that 300,000 people a year are already making the ultimate sacrifice so we can jet off to New York to buy shoes. Lord Adonis knows very well that there's no 'greener technology' on the horizon to justify a business as usual approach to aviation.”