Included within the French Climate Law approved in August 2021, the measure seeks to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions from this type of regular air transport service.
The French decree, which applies for a period of three years, stated that train journeys must have: “sufficient frequencies and adequate timetables”, while the connection must allow the passenger to spend more than eight hours at the destination during the day.
In addition, the rail service must run between stations serving the same cities as the respective airports concerned.
Clément Beaune, the French Transport Minister, welcomed this measure as an essential step and a strong symbol in the policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is a world first and is fully in line with the government’s policy of encouraging the use of transport modes that emit less greenhouse gases”, he said in a statement.
However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), through its director general, Willie Walsh, described the measure as “completely absurd”. He insisted that it “serves no purpose”, according to the EFE news agency.
Walsh explained that if all routes of less than 500 kilometres in Europe were eliminated, 24 per cent of flights would be eliminated. On the other hand, citing a Eurocontrol report, he claimed that CO2 emissions would fall by only 3.84 per cent.
Short-haul flights are the main contributor to aviation emissions in Europe. This is the main conclusion of research carried out by scientists at the University of Manchester.
Eliminating short-haul flights of less than 500 kilometres in Europe would drastically reduce aviation emissions, which account for 6 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. It would be a ‘good move’ in the fight against climate change, according to the researchers.
Published in 2021 in the journal ‘Transportation Research’, the study found that a large number of existing flights between cities at distances of less than 483 kilometres and with public transport alternatives were ‘key contributors of harmful emissions’.
According to Antonio Filippone, the head of the study, this presents a clear opportunity to ‘curb unnecessary pollution to achieve net zero carbon targets’.
‘Aviation authorities and airlines have the opportunity to review the frequency of these routes, to reduce emissions, optimise networks, reduce congestion and contribute positively to environmental sustainability’, said the researcher from the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester in England.
By cross-referencing air traffic data with geographical information, the researchers identified extremely short air routes operating across Europe before the pandemic that brought air traffic to a virtual standstill.
Using advanced simulation methods to estimate ‘gate-to-gate’ emissions, the scientists were able to show that it was the shortest journeys that generated the highest emissions.
They stressed the need to ‘re-evaluate the European air network’ when a cleaner transport alternative is available, as is the case for most of the routes analysed.
In line with scientists’ concerns about emissions from short-haul flights, the Spanish government announced two years ago its intention to ban air routes with train alternatives and travel times of less than two and a half hours. The government proposal provoked an angry protest from the Airline Association (ALA).
Pedro Sánchez’s government included the goal of eliminating short-haul flights in the ‘Spain 2050’ report, which set out the national strategy for the next thirty years.
According to the government’s calculations, eliminating short-haul flights would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 2 million tonnes.
“It is recommended that flights should be banned on journeys that can be made by train in less than 2.5 hours”, the plan presented at the time stated.
Agenda 2050 also proposes a higher tax on frequent flyers. It also proposed creating a tax ‘on air tickets according to the proximity of the destination’. This would help: ‘limit their negative externalities and bring their tax treatment closer to that of other means of transport0, the report added.
The ALA warned of the ‘devastating’ impact that any of these measures would have on the aviation sector, as well as on tourism, and consequently, on employment and the country’s economy.
Eliminating flights of less than 500 kilometres or less than two and a half hours travel time would mean no more flights from almost anywhere on the mainland to Madrid, according to the ALA.
As a result, travellers from Spain’s peripheral communities would no longer fly to other continents via Madrid, but from cities such as Paris, London, Frankfurt or Rome. The result would be that emissions would be maintained and the Madrid hub would be seriously affected.
Aviation accounted for 5.9 per cent of global emissions in 2019 and was responsible for more than 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
This figure represented only 2 per cent of total global emissions. A report by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently corroborated scientific research that claimed that the real climate impact of burning paraffin at altitude is three times higher than previously thought, as CO2 accounts for only one-third of the emissions caused by aircraft.
If that was the case then the industry’s annual contribution to climate change would amount to 5.9 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Given that the aviation industry and air passenger traffic have grown dramatically in recent decades – in the European Union the number of users increased from 360 million to 1,106 million in 2018 – the contribution of aircraft to the climate crisis is much more significant than previously thought.
Even more so when one considers that, between 1960 and 2018, CO2 emissions from the commercial aviation sector increased from 6.8 million to 1,034 million tonnes per year. Moreover, aviation emitted 129 per cent more greenhouse gases in 2017 than in 1990, as reported by laopiniondemalaga.es.