The aviation industry is currently under rigorous public scrutiny due to its detrimental impact on the environment. The adverse environmental impact of air travel begins even prior to take off. The severity of damages to the environment caused by construction of airports is tremendous, such as cutting down massive number of trees to make way for the construction of runways. In addition, air travel consumes an enormous amount of carbon dioxide-based fuel that further contributes to air pollution and climate change. All of these detrimental environmental effects of air travel justify significant government intervention and active involvement of policymakers at all administrative levels. This paper specifically argues that given the adverse environmental impact of air transport and tourism there should be policies focused on three important goals: promoting tourist awareness of the environmental implications of their travel behaviors and preferences; encouraging the aviation industry to dutifully pay its environmental taxes; and, endorsing sustainable alternative fuels.
However, these proposals will fail to deliver if there is no collaboration between national governments, private entities, and international organizations. Thus the primary recommendation put forth in this paper is the continuous support of governments for social (raising tourists’ awareness), economic (environmental taxes), and scientific breakthroughs (biofuel) that could potentially resolve the problem of environmental degradation caused by air travel. The proceeding discussion takes into consideration the potential setbacks to these proposed solutions.
Airlines conduct their businesses in a highly limited and regulated political environment. Thus, the involvement of the government is significantly crucial to the protection not only of the interests and safety of the passengers and airlines, but also of the natural environment. There are three major proposed solutions to this issue, namely, raising the awareness of tourists about the environmental impact of aviation, making sure that the costs of air transport completely take account of environmental factors (e.g. obliging airlines to shoulder a ‘pollution’ charge), and developing better alternative fuels for air transport.
One of the reasons behind the increasing impact of air travel and tourism on the natural environment is the ‘freedom’ given to all types of tourists, with or without adequate and appropriate knowledge of the environmental implications of their travel choices, attitudes, and behaviors. Tourists claim this freedom to decide where and how to travel, and the aviation and tourism industry remains successful in exploiting exotic and fascinating destinations and cultures in order to meet such demands (Evans, Stonehouse, and Campbell 166). However, the environmental implications of air transport support the argument that such ‘rights’ should be accompanied with obligations and proper education, as well as actual restrictions on services that would enhance environmental and social justice (Reisinger and Turner 327). Unfortunately, in view of the remarkably important role of aviation and tourism in the present consumer culture, which is built on stable economic progress by means of continuous consumerism, it is more probable that such policies will be rejected.
In fact, only a handful of studies have been conducted to identify the level of awareness of tourists about the environmental effects of air transport or if they are open to the idea of making an effort to alleviate those effects. As shown in the research of Becken (2007), most tourists have sufficient awareness of climate change, yet they are predisposed to misidentify climate change, especially the concept of global warming, with other environmental issues (352). Gaining greater awareness of the environmental consequences of air transport could result in environmentally friendly attitudes and choices among tourists. As a result, knowledge on future outcomes of climate change is expected to influence the choices and behavior of tourists, as awareness of environmental issues are also essential to consumer preferences.
Critics argue that within the perspective of environmentally responsive consumption, and specifically as regards global issues, enhancing the awareness of tourists and their access to information usually creates feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, and thus may lead to weakened individual response (Becken 363). In fact, too much awareness would compel some prospective tourists to call off their travel plans thus reducing demand for destinations known to be environmentally undesirable (Zhang 2410). But Davies and Cahill (2000) and the 1972 Stockholm conference assert that tourists could be more open to educational programs that place emphasis on the environmental advantages of behavioral change than to regulatory constraints by itself (Otiende 24). For instance, a notice that forbids using low-cost carriers that require unsustainable fuels could be more beneficial if supplemented by a clarification of the possible damage that CO2-based fuel can do to the environment.
The second proposed solution is levying ‘pollution’ tax on air transport. As specified in international law, the fuel of global air transport is tax-free, which implies that air travel is highly economical. Inopportunely, this also weakens the motivation of airlines to put more resources and energy in developing more sustainable aircrafts. The core argument for increased taxation of air transport, particularly international air travel, is simply explained (Strand and Keen 5). These taxes are presently low considering the environmental damages (e.g. noise and air pollution) brought about by border-crossing air travel (Strand and Keen 5). In fact, a counteractive tax should be imposed on air transport in order to address the consequences of GHGs. Strand and Keen (2006) further explain that taxes on international air transport could be ineffectually low due to an inequitable taxation structure, with governments freely deciding to impose taxes that would protect the local tourist industry and/or domestic transporters.
Ideally, and in a perfect market situation, environmental taxes can accomplish its environmental objective by itself if the tax rate is favorably high and if the taxation system is structured correctly. In actual fact, elevated tax rates are not realistic all the time and an optimally designed taxation system could be unreasonably pricey (European Environment Agency 13-14). Therefore, in order to lessen these setbacks, normally, environmental taxes are implemented alongside other methods and instruments. As elaborated by Leicester (b) (2006), these could boost the efficacy or mitigate undesirable outcomes of the tax. Specifically, anticipated adverse effects on the competitiveness of the aviation industry are generally moderated by tax exemptions or reductions in tax rate, or by reutilizing revenues, alongside other instruments like environmental sponsorship to attain the established environmental goals.
In due course, environmental taxes on air transport could influence the structure of air travel routes by airline companies. Environmental taxes would affect most significantly aircrafts with low load capacities, and affected airline companies may try to restrict or lower the frequency of their operations to disfavored destinations, or cut down the flight frequency and flight time options offered to passengers, so as to boost the use of airplanes with high load capacities. Evidently, this is the purpose of environmental taxes on aviation—it is designed to decrease the number of largely unoccupied planes (Leicester and O’Dea 201-202). It is generally beneficial for aviation businesses to try to attain sustainability in their operations; thus taxes are reasonably profitable.
Figure 1. The diagram shows how environmental taxes can benefit the aviation industry in the long run (Leicester (a) 4).
However, at large, environmental taxes have been implemented less regularly than environmental regulations, relatively owing to the influence of powerful industry elites on policymaking and their capability to hinder the implementation of taxes (Gossling and Upham 354). Critics argue that taxes are unfair for the aviation industry because it shoulders a dual obligation: meeting tax duties and meeting the expense of abatement (Gossling and Upham 354). Still, on the contrary, taxes also increase profits which may possibly be spent to reward aviation businesses that practice environmentally sustainable rules.
Policymakers should continuously and more thoughtfully pursue an evenhanded taxation structure for air transport. Specifically, all workable efforts must be carried out to make sure that the costs of air transport completely take account of environmental factors, compliant with the rule of ‘environmental tax’ (Strand and Keen 5-6). Governments must also recognize the reality that exempting air transport fuel from taxation efficiently functions as a funding for the industry, and must consequently wholly consider this in its economic, social, and environmental study of the effects and costs of air transport.
Taxes can encourage socially responsible corporate practices by furnishing polluters with motivation to strengthen their environmental outcomes. Taxes are largely implementable, even though emissions must remain under supervision and policymakers have to make sure that polluters are correctly fulfilling their tax obligations (Gossling and Upham 354). The expansion of the aviation industry is powered by reasonable prices hence the important challenge is to launch policies which would raise these prices. A deepening political thrust for these policies is witnessed today—fuel taxes, emissions trading, and the ‘polluter pays’ rule.
The third proposed solution is policies toward sustainable alternative fuels that are recognized to be in line with sustainable goals. These alternative fuels generally have reduced GHG footprint compared to traditional fuel. Compatible with the environmental objectives of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), their development and utilization should lead to the predicted sizeable decrease in GHG emissions (Novelli 1). These alternative fuels can be generated or cultivated without adversely affecting the landscape, water sources, or food supplies. They are comparable to traditional jet fuels in terms of performance.
Figure 2. The Difference between fossil and biofuel in terms of life cycle GHG emission (Novelli 5)
Unfortunately, sustainable alternative fuels are far from resolving either economic or environmental problems. They are still being experimented by the air transport industry, in spite of their progressive value as supplements to automotive fuels. Critics argue that sophisticated biofuels as a whole are presently viewed by the industry as a less appealing alternative that has greater risk compared to more developed green technologies like solar energy or biomass (Novelli 2). However, biofuel manufacturers are undaunted by these criticisms. According to Berdy (2012), these biofuel companies are in fact producing ‘drop-in’ supplements for traditional jet fuels, which demand no drastic adjustments to aviation technologies.
The Aviation Fuel Subcommittee of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) ratified a different fuel requirement for the testing and utilization of biofuels. This endorsement occurred in 2009 after the satisfactory performance of commercial airplanes fuelled by various biofuel mixtures (Berdy 56). ASTM further amended the rules and allowed the combination of various biofuels with petroleum-based fuels (Ross 3-4). This amendment reinforced the capability of biofuels for actual use in commercial flights. Fortunately, the future of biofuels for air transport is gradually becoming a reality.
The three main aspects in the field of air travel and tourism that policymakers should take into full consideration are personal safety, the natural environment, and climate (World Tourism Organization 103). Tourists have considerable freedom to choose their destination based on climate change concerns. For instance, they can cancel travel plans to destinations that are seriously affected by climate change. Therefore, tourists’ perception and response to the environmental implications of their destination choice will influence demand trends and take on an important part in the ultimate consequence of air travel and tourism for climate change and the natural environment.
Governments must acknowledge the fact that concern for sustainable goals in the aviation and tourism industry is expanding. They must consider this in their effort to convince the aviation and tourism industry to give greater priority to environmental goals, stressing the general cost-effectiveness of a more environmentally friendly business model. As asserted by Becken (2007), governments have to identify what is essential to tourists if they plan to foster positive behavioral change.
Secondly, an amended environmental taxation for the aviation industry would boost encouragement for airlines to prevent empty planes from flying, and allow only those that are filled to capacity. The rates of a new environmental tax for air transport could in theory have to differ by the distance covered, level of plane emissions, and type of aircraft (Leicester and O’Dea 205). Enforcing the taxation system to compel passengers to bear the environmental burden of their decisions and behavior in the cost they shell out for certain products and/or services might be the most effect alternation from the standpoint of economic efficiency.
And, lastly, Tony Tyler of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggests several steps that governments can implement to encourage the use of biofuels (as cited in Berdy 60): embolden all interested parties to give their pledges to vigorous global sustainability standards; encourage airline companies to perform a cost-benefit analysis of utilizing sustainable alternative fuels by educating them about its advantages and disadvantages; create circumstances that would encourage private and public entities to invest in the research and development of air transport biofuels; and support research into new materials and resources for the production and refinement of biofuels.
The environmental implications of air transport have been one of the most intensely debated topics between industrialists and environmental advocates. It is the contention of this paper that there are three potential solutions to this issue. First, develop policies aiming to raise the awareness of tourists about the environmental effects of air travel. It is in the best interest of both the public and private sector to educate tourists about this issue in order to encourage more sustainable travel behaviors and preferences. Second, there should be an effective implementation of environmental taxes. Exempting the aviation industry from these taxes simply encourage them to take on a complacent approach to the efficiency aspect of their operations. These environmental taxes, if met correctly and dutifully, can be used as incentives for aviation businesses to adopt more socially and environmentally responsible practices.
Third, governments should support the promotion of alternative sustainable fuels by helping private entities create circumstances that would make the use of these biofuels in the aviation industry viable. In conclusion, the key solution to this issue is an active and dynamic collaboration between the private and public domain. Critics of these proposed solutions do not stand a chance in the face of strong collaboration between the aviation and tourism industry and the overarching political institution.
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