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Tue 25 January 2022

Following the lead of Boris Johnson, several ministers opted for planes over the planet, reveals Sascha Lavin

At least three Government ministers flew to the COP26 summit in Glasgow last month, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and a “Departmental Minister” from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), likely to be Gillian Keegan, travelled by plane to the UN climate change conference. Department of Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey also travelled by plane – though she flew in a“green plane” which uses Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) produced from food waste and claims to reduce aviation carbon emissions by up to 80%. However, environmental campaigners have raised concerns that SAF flights are simply “greenwashing”. 

As Boris Johnson attempted to use the crucial talks to position the UK as a world leader in the fight against climate change, several members of his Cabinet failed to lead by example.  

Emissions from flying are a “significant contributor” to climate change and the aviation industry is responsible for around 5% of global warming. 

These ministers followed Johnson’s example, who flew to Glasgow on a SAF flight and returned on a private jet – reportedly to attend a Daily Telegraph reunion party.

Assuming that the Government ministers flew from London, collectively they would have produced over 0.25 tonnes of C02. To put this into perspective, a person would have to wash all their clothes in cold water for a year to counteract the carbon emissions produced by these flights. 

Alethea Warrington, campaigner at climate charity Possible, told Byline Times: “We need urgent action to tackle the climate crisis and end reliance on fossil fuels, including cutting down on highly polluting plane travel. The Government needs to amp up ambition to reach the UK’s climate targets, and should lead by example by choosing climate-friendly ways of travelling such as by train.”

This is not the first time the Government’s green rhetoric has been at odds with its actions. An investigation by Byline Times last month revealed that Government staff took almost half a million flights to meetings and events in 2019 – the equivalent of 66 trips to the moon – despite Johnson’s promise to make the UK “the cleanest, greenest [country] on Earth”. 

The Foreign Secretary has a history of protecting planes instead of the planet. In the run-up to COP26, Truss counter-intuitively claimed that “the best way to reduce climate emissions from flying isn’t to stop flying”. She also defended the estimated 400 private jets flying to the UN summit in Glasgow.

The Government’s ‘one rule for us’ approach to tackling the climate crisis may explain why only a-quarter of voters think a Boris Johnson government is the best choice to handle environmental issues, according to a poll earlier this year. 

In reply to the parliamentary question regarding the flights to COP26, the Government pointed to train travel disruption caused by storms as the reason for Truss’ flight. However, tens of thousands of politicians, activists and journalists were able to make it to Glasgow by train or car.  

Both Truss and the DHSC minister returned to London by train. It’s not known howCoffey returned to the capital.

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and the DHSC did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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