Number of flights taken by officials from department tackling climate crisis soars

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Civil service Number of flights taken by officials from department tackling climate crisis soars

Number of flights taken by BEIS staff rises to 4,500 from 2,700 in previous year despite carbon footprint

Planes at London City airport. The shadow climate change minister accused ministers and officials of ‘shirking public transport’. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

The Whitehall officials responsible for tackling the climate crisis dramatically increased their domestic flights last year despite the huge carbon footprint associated with aviation.

Officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) took more than 4,500 domestic business flights in the last financial year, according to its annual report. The number of flights taken the year before was fewer than 2,700.

The department racked up the extra air miles in the same year that it asked the Committee on Climate Change to map a road towards a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

The official climate watchdog warned that there could be only a limited increase in the number of flights taken in the coming decades if the UK is to end its contribution to global heating.

Alan Whitehead, the shadow climate change minister, said the department should be “setting the gold standard of net zero compatible behaviour, 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.

The figures emerged in the same week the climate activist Greta Thunberg embarked on an ambitious voyage from Plymouth to the US on a zero-carbon, solar-powered yacht to avoid the damaging greenhouse gases emitted during a long-haul flight.

Environmental experts have urged the public to fly less, spend longer at their destination and choose lower-emission travel options whenever possible.

Doug Parr, the chief climate scientist of Greenpeace, said: “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?”

A government spokeswoman said BEIS was “making good progress” towards achieving its goal to cut emissions by two-thirds from their 2010 levels by the end of next year.

The department’s total greenhouse gas emissions, including flights, fell below 22,700 tonnes of carbon in the last financial year, down from more than 30,300 tonnes the year before.

The emissions reduction is due to a steep fall in the amount of gas used to heat the department after undertaking energy efficiency upgrades to its offices at 10 Victoria Street.

BEIS said last year that it would fit double-glazing and a new boiler system to the offices after an investigation by the BBC last summer revealed that its building had the lowest possible energy efficiency ratings.

Under a freedom of information request the broadcaster found that four of the 11 offices leased by BEIS received the lowest G rating, while the headquarters in Victoria Street had an E rating.

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