France is abolishing all domestic air travel on routes that can be covered by train in less than 2½ hours, in a bid to reduce emissions in one of the most hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy.
“We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions,” said Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher. “Equally, we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside.”
The French government announced the new measure just days after it put up €4 billion to help Air France boost its finances after a year of curtailed travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s citizens’ climate assembly had previously recommended a flight ban on routes that take less than four hours by train, Reuters says.
The legislative measure “is part of a broader climate bill that aims to cut French carbon emissions by 40% in 2030 from 1990 levels, though activists accuse President Emmanuel Macron of watering down earlier promises in the draft legislation,” the news agency reports. At the same time, Pannier-Runacher “dismissed criticism from the aviation industry that a pandemic recovery was not the time to ban some domestic flights, and said there was no contradiction between the bailout and the climate bill.”
The news landed just days before a UK poll showed business travellers planning to take fewer flights after the global health emergency ends.
“Only a third expected to return to the same level of flying as before the coronavirus pandemic, once travel restrictions are lifted,” The Guardian reports. “The huge reduction in air travel caused by COVID-19 had no impact on the work life or productivity of the majority of the business flyers, the poll found, with one in five saying the shutdown had had a positive impact.”
“European business travellers are adopting new ways of working, which means less travel,” said Carbon Tracker Energy Strategist Kingsmill Bond. “This reinforces our central observation that 2019 was the peak of the fossil fuel era.”
Carbon pollution from aviation was rising 5.7% per year before the pandemic, The Guardian notes, prompting campaigners to look to the pandemic as an opportunity to push the industry onto a more sustainable trajectory. “Business class seats provide most of airlines’ revenues but result in more emissions than those in the economy cabin because of the greater space occupied by each passenger,” the news story notes. “Business fliers also fly far more frequently than most holiday-goers, with 10% of those in the poll taking more than 10 flights in the year up to the first lockdown in March 2020.”
That makes frequent flying an “elite and unfair activity,” The Guardian adds, with just 1% of the global population causing half of the world’s aviation emissions in 2018.
“Flying for business meetings burns up time and money, as well as our climate,” said Alethea Warrington, campaigns manager at the London, UK-based climate action charity Possible. “What we need now is investment in affordable train travel, not unnecessary airport growth which threatens to crash the climate.”