Flying should not be treated as the “ultimate evil” and people should enjoy guilt-free travel despite the impact on the climate, the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
Mr Shapps’s comments came after criticism of some delegates at the Cop26 summit, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for flying to Glasgow when alternatives with a lower carbon footprint were available.
The ninth day of Cop26 talks on Wednesday is dedicated to transport, with Britain unveiling plans for zero-emission lorries and an upgraded electric charging network.
Mr Shapps said the green overhaul should not prevent people from travelling to visit friends and family or do business.
“I believe, as Transport Secretary, that we can get to guilt-free travel in this country,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“There has been an idea that has been allowed to percolate that, somehow, if we are going to meet all these different carbon commitments, we are going to need to get to the point where we all stay home, that travel is somehow something which attracts great guilt.
"It gets worse the further you travel, so flying is, of course, the ultimate evil, as it is presented and that is just not what we believe as the British government.”
His comments came as about two dozen countries said they would work together to reduce emissions from plane travel to “net zero” by 2050, including by promoting the use of sustainable fuels.
Greenpeace described the declaration — signed by Britain, France, Spain, the United States and others — as “brazen greenwashing.”
“They should be reducing flights and massively investing into rail and greener travel options,” the environmental group said.
Rail operators have encouraged people in Britain to reach Glasgow by train – but many were stranded when fallen trees blocked the main north-south routes.
Mr Johnson took thetrain when he returned to Glasgow on Wednesday to push for a successful end to the summit.
He said delegates should “pull out all the stops” in the final days of talks to keep alive hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels.
The UK plans to cut its carbon emissions by phasing out petrol cars from 2030 and polluting heavy goods vehicles from 2040.
As part of this, Britain unveiled the design of electric charging points that will be needed to support low-carbon road transport.
The government said the charging stations could become emblems of Britain such as the red post box or London’s black cabs.
“To support the transition to [electric vehicles], it is integral that we have the infrastructure to support it,” Mr Shapps said.
“My vision is for the UK to have one of the best EV infrastructure networks in the world, with excellent British design at its heart.”