A discussion paper published at the University of East Anglia holds that due to the cap-and-trade scheme, a decisions to fly or not has no impact inside the European Union.
Quoting from the press release, Emissions trading schemes limit green consumerism:
The decision to fly or not no longer has any substantial impact on total GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions because emissions from aviation within the EU are included in the EU ETS. Any additional emissions caused have to be reduced elsewhere and vice versa.
The full paper, entitled Private provision of public goods in a second-best world: cap and trade schemes limit green consumerism, by Dr Grischa Perino will be published by the Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science on Wednesday, January 30. As far as I can see, it does not appear to be peer-reviewed.
An blog post by Leo Hickman on The Guardian website responds: Should we stop worrying about the environmental impact of flying?. Hickman writes: Perino appears to adopt a theoretical, idealised vision of the ETS, one that doesn't account for the system's very real flaws, not least its vulnerability to turbulence caused by vested interests and political pressure..
Other economists and anti-aviation activists by Hickman do not really contest the point. He does quote Chris Goodall as saying:
Actually, people don't behave like economists expect them to do. Choosing an ethical lifestyle or a 'green' lifestyle has two effects simply not captured by economists. First, it demonstrates a willingness to pay some price to achieve what one considers a social good. (Sorry, I'm talking like an economist here). If I say I won't fly, it demonstrates to others that their might (just might) be an issue with flying. In other words, there may be (in fact, probably is) a demonstration effect. We are all strongly guided by the ethical actions of those around us. Second, the choice of lifestyle/consumption habits shows elected governments that there is popular support for action. If, say, a substantial number of people said that they were reducing their flying for environmental reasons it allows governments to impose tighter caps on flying emissions, knowing that they have some popular support. (Frankly, I think this is the most important effect of ethical actions).
When a significant amount of travellers decide to take the train rather than the flight, inside the EU, I would expect this to reduce carbon emissions, because there are less flights. But is this true in practice?