UK climate agency officials doubled air travel over previous year, report says

More "do as I say, not as I do" government?

Members of the United Kingdom agency tasked with addressing climate change issues took nearly twice as many flights in the most recent fiscal year as they did during the previous one, according to a recent report.

Some critics claim the figures demonstrate how the officials from the U.K.’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) fail to practice what they preach by not trying to decrease their carbon footprint by cutting back on air travel.

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BEIS officials traveled on more than 4,500 domestic business flights in the most recent financial year (2018-19), the department’s annual report said, after taking just 2,700 flights the previous year.

In response to the report, U.K. Labour Party politician Alan Whitehead, who’s lobbied for increased use of sustainable energy sources, said the BEIS should be “setting the gold standard of net zero compatible behavior, not flying domestically 4,500 times a year.”

“Ministers and officials shirking public transport and lower-carbon travel is how we’ve ended up with an overly expensive railway system,” he added.

A BEIS spokesperson told the Guardian that the flight figure does not paint a complete picture of the department’s total efforts to reduce emissions. The spokesperson said BEIS is “making good progress” toward their goal to slice the department’s total emission by two-thirds of its 2010 rate by 2020.

The department’s total greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that accounts for plane travel and other factors, was less than 22,700 tons of carbon during the last financial year. The department emitted 30,300 tons the previous year.

Doug Parr, chief climate scientist of Greenpeace, told the Guardian “Every part of the economy needs to be making carbon reductions, and within government one would expect BEIS to take the lead.

“The department has been cutting their flights over the last decade, but last year’s sharp and disappointing uptick in domestic flights is concerning. Flying is an unavoidably high-carbon activity and shouldn’t happen without a real need.

“Can this number of domestic flights within a small, developed nation with relatively good surface transport really be necessary?” he said.

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In 2019, BEIS requested the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the U.K. government on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, develop a roadmap for the economy to reduce its total carbon emissions to a net zero by the year 2050.

In response, the committee warned that in order for the U.K. to effectively eliminate its contribution to global heating, the number of flights taken by U.K. residents would need to increase by a limited amount only to account for population increase, the Guardian reported.