[This article was first published in the Edinburgh Evening News newspaper on the 14th of May 2019]
Swiftly after declaring a climate emergency, the SNP abandoned their long-established plans to abolish Air Departure Tax, a move which delighted environmental activists and infuriated business.
They had been under pressure to do so for quite some time, particularly as the cost of funding this tax break would have to have been found from the budget that pays for so much of our schools and hospitals.
Labour argued that such a tax cut was regressive in nature. There is plenty of evidence to prove that richer people are more likely to fly; why then would you make flying cheaper at the expense of your public services? It was a question of priorities.
The SNP Government caved and abandoned their plans ahead of Labour forcing a vote on the issue, but in truth they had little choice after ratcheting up climate change as a key political issue.
However, with temperatures Ârising and the global impact of climate change biting, this clearly was never going to be the end game. Pressure is now rising for the SNP to abandon its support for expansion at Heathrow Airport. The same arguments flow like hot air through an engine: how can you declare a climate emergency and then back a plan to increase aviation?
This is where I think we need a note of caution. It is true to say that if aviation was a country it would be in the top ten biggest polluters, but opposing every development in the UK will not save the planet when all the expected aviation growth of the future will come from developing countries and rising economies.
It’s like throwing a baked bean at an elephant in an attempt to topple it. Only worse, because we’ll be damaging our own economic prospects in the process.
The truth is Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. It’s at capacity so there is competition over routes and slots, heaping pressure on the shorter, less profitable but crucial routes, such as those to and from Scotland.
These are the plane journeys which serve our large employment bases, bring in critical tourism and the brightest brains to and from our Âuniversities. It’s the means by which the country’s wealth creators travel.
The very people who I want to see pay more taxes to be redistributed to areas most in need. If we lose direct routes to and from Scotland – and the trains remain as rubbish and expensive as they are – our economy will suffer, leaving us with fewer tax receipts to spend on the things that really matter.
Of course, the aviation industry is falling far short of doing its bit for the climate, but they are not the only bad guys in town and we should be really careful in labelling them as such.
It is no good saying that you never fly any more because of the carbon if you are munching on red meat for the third or fourth time this week.
The Scottish and UK governments, in my view, should be spending far more time and money on investing in the research and development necessary to discover renewable fuels for aircrafts. There are the beginnings of world-leading solutions coming out of Edinburgh’s own Heriot-Watt University at the moment, where they have invented a biofuel for planes from waste that can’t be recycled.
Until then, perhaps instead of concentrating on what looks like quick-fix solutions, we should all take a bit more responsibility for our own carbon footprints. If we all had for example, an annual carbon budget to spend, we could make better decisions over what we eat to justify that long weekend in Barcelona.
I understand the need to take urgent action on climate change, but if we are serious about saving the planet then we need serious sustainable solutions – not ones that damage Scotland’s competitive edge.
Climate change is a global issue in need of global solutions. If our connectivity suffers, it’s only because another country has snapped up the opportunity – it will not lead to one less flight.