Travel companies have been told they must encourage their customers to fly less to tackle the challenge of climate change.

Speaking at the ABTA Travel Convention in Tokyo, Tim Williamson, director of marketing and content at Responsible Travel, told delegates he couldn’t “sugar coat” his message that “we all need to fly less and we need to encourage our customers to fly less”.

“Given that I’m talking to travel companies, that’s a difficult message, but if we’re going to stop the planet heating above two degrees, I can’t see how you can do it without flying less,” he added.

Williamson said a reduction in flying was key to lowering emissions created by travel and warned “we need to act now”. He said: “We’ve not done nearly enough in the last ten years on carbon.”

Carbon offsets are also “a very murky world”, according to Williamson, who said voluntary offsetting is not enough to immediately begin helping towards the goal of limiting the impact of greenhouse gases.

On a controversial note, Williamson – who formerly held roles at companies such as Monarch Airlines and TUI UK – said the answer may lie in a carbon tax on aviation. He claimed turning Air Passenger Duty (APD) into a kind of emissions fee, combined with raising rates to discourage people from flying unless necessary, could “fund sustainable aviation”.

Williamson’s proposal mirrors a new ‘eco-tax’ being introduced in France. Governments in Germany and the UK are also reportedly considering a levy designed to tackle climate change.

Earlier in the day, Travel Convention attendees were told by writer and broadcaster Dr Gabrielle Walker the potential negative effects of Brexit “pale in comparison to what will happen if we don’t act on climate change”.

Walker said: “Twenty years ago I was on stages saying that if we didn’t do something about climate change, we’d start seeing the effects in 15-20 years. It’s not news anymore – this is life now.”

Commenting on the UK government’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, Walker said “it’s not good news. Things will get worse before they get better. We already know what to do, we’re just not doing it fast enough.”

One of the first things the travel industry can do to help save the environment is to “reduce and avoid”, according to Walker, who praised companies for their efforts to cut plastic waste and airlines for their investment into alternative fuels and new aircraft technology aimed at limiting emissions.

Walker closed her session by quoting Jack Welch, former CEO of technology giant GE, telling the audience: “Change before you have to.”

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