Technology & investment
"The hub could be elsewhere in Europe, or somewhere like Singapore. But if it was in the UK, then the BAs of this world would then be in a position to drive change." Bernie's point is that an international hub airport built in the UK would produce fewer emissions than the same hub anywhere else, because British industry would build and run the airport in a lower-carbon way.
"Companies [in the UK aviation sector] constantly strive to bring new technologies onto the market. They're striving to substantially reduce their emissions, but the green lobby wouldn't recognize that."
So why doesn't Unite speak out for emissions cuts as clearly as it spoke out in favour of aviation expansion? "Unite is already promoting cleaner technology. For example, Unite in Scotland is pushing for carbon capture on coal-fired power stations. There's lots of policy bubbling along but it hasn't been unified into a clear statement."
The most recent research on aviation and climate change suggests that improved technology won't be enough to prevent the damage. Even with optimistic estimates of increased fuel efficiency and better air traffic management, the CO2 emissions from aviation are still set to quadruple by 2050.
But according to Bernie, we already have technology that could go a long way towards cutting emissions; the real problem is a lack of interest and investment. "Rolls-Royce has done work on a more fuel-efficient plane, and it's ready to launch, but they don't know if the market's ready. The new advanced planes are 20-30 per cent more fuel-efficient than current planes, but they won't launch because they fear they'll be a flop in the current climate. Airlines are on their knees just now; they don't have the liquidity [to invest in new solutions]. Any new technology is a new purchase."
Bernie also believes that many workers in the union fail to see any connection between their jobs and climate change. "It should be more linked. As unions we are here to address climate change, just as we're here to fight fascism or show solidarity for workers in Cuba. But the drive has to come from the top."
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