An individual cap on air travel, that people can trade with each other, would help to reduce the impact of flying

Maybe it’s just because I’m back from a bank holiday weekend in north Wales that was filled with glorious Mediterranean-style sunshine. But reading about a new study that says global tourism now accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, three times more than was previously thought made me think– surely we can do better?

Whenever I hear about the impact global tourism has on the environment I experience a pang of guilt. While it’s not just the greenhouse gases churned out by planes that are the problem – the study points out it’s also what tourists do when they get to their destination – they account for a big chunk. And yet it’s a pang of guilt I never act on. It’s just too easy to ignore when it’s often cheaper to get a short-hop flight to somewhere sunny than it is to buy an off-peak return on the train to many parts of the UK.


Making consumers feel so guilty they change their behaviour – taking more holidays in the UK, forking out hundreds to get to European destinations by train – just isn’t going to work; I’m proof of that. We need firmer action. But increasing the government levies on air travel – forcing up prices to get people to fly less – isn’t the answer. This would have little impact on the most affluent travellers, while hitting the poorest in society.

Instead we should look to carbon trading schemes for inspiration. In schemes running in the EU and some areas of the US, international organisations or governments sign up to a total limit on carbon emissions. They then issue companies with permits that allow them to emit a certain amount of carbon. It’s then up to the companies to trade the permits. Companies that want to emit more can buy permits from those that manage to reduce their carbon emissions.

We could develop a similar system for flights. Everyone could be given an air mile allowance – say enough for one long-haul return flight a year, or three short-haul flights, so people with families on the other side of the world could see them once a year. If you don’t want to use your allowance, you could sell it off in a government-regulated online marketplace. If you’re keen to do a holiday a month, you’ll have to buy your allowance from someone else.

Read more: The Guardian