THE New Year rush to book that long-awaited holiday abroad makes us all feel good, but what does it mean for the future of the planet?

It is not surprising that we are seduced by the plethora of holiday advertisements that promise adventure, clear blue skies and white sandy beaches.

But, before we book, how many of us consider the impact that our choices may have on the environment? And, given the fact that the aviation industry's contribution to man-made emissions is estimated to be as little as six to eight per cent, why all the fuss about so little?

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, flight emissions are the fastest growing contributor to global warming and threaten to counteract measures already taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.

The advent of low-cost airlines has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of people opting to fly to domestic and other destinations that had previously been reached by train, road and ferry.

Since 1990, the number of passengers travelling out of UK airports has risen by 120 per cent and, with more than 200 million passengers currently passing through British airports each year, the government predicts that this will rise to 470 million by 2030.

New charter routes to destinations in South America and the Far East lifted overall passenger numbers travelling from Manchester Airport by 3.9 per cent in December to 1.4million, compared with the same month in 2005. The number of people who travelled to long-haul resorts rose 10.6 per cent, or 14,000, to 148,430 in December. It was the airport's best monthly performance since October, 2005.

The boss of Manchester Airport has said the green movement presents "huge financial challenges" to the aviation industry.

Geoff Muirhead, chief executive of Manchester Airport Group, said "environmental activism" and increasing pressure for regulation could harm an industry that was "unfairly" perceived not to be paying enough taxes.

He said: "I resist those calls to increase taxes. None of our European competitors faces these taxes, which cover all the estimate we have for the external cost of aviation."

Mr Muirhead said that although the industry must tackle growing concerns about climate change, he feared for the economic wellbeing of the country if environmental concerns came to outweigh business growth.

By 2030 Manchester could be handling 50 million passengers a year, he said.

Last month, the Department for Transport (DfT) reported that British airports are responsible for 34 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions every year.

However, when you factor the number of British passengers on incoming flights - approximately 70 per cent - the true figure of aviation emissions created by British travellers exceeds 58 million tonnes on top of the 570 million the UK already emits. And by 2030, this figure will be approximately 112 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The UK has pledged to cut its emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, which means that it needs to reduce the amount it already emits to less than 230 million.

However, the DfT's white paper on aviation in 2003 outlined plans to triple the number of air passengers by 2030 with the biggest airport expansion in UK aviation history.

In the face of criticism from environmental lobbyists, the government defends its aggressive plans by suggesting that increasing capacity is "socially inclusive", enabling the less well-off to fly.

Yet, a MORI poll conducted last year showed that people in the lower D and E social classes rarely fly at all and, in fact 75 per cent of all budget airlines passengers are from the more affluent A, B and C social groupings.

The Environment Audit Committee claims that the rapid rise of the aviation industry is "unsustainable and unacceptable".

However, Ryanair boss, Michael O'Leary claims his low-cost airline is "Europe's greenest airline" having successfully reduced its carbon emissions by more than 50 per cent. An investigation by the BBC's Newsnight programme, however, revealed that the airline has in fact trebled its CO2 emissions, thereby accusing Ryanair of blatant lying.

So, what can be done?

The obvious answer - and the most unpopular suggestion - is to take fewer flights. It might mean opting for destinations closer to home and choosing alternative methods of transport such as the train or ferries to European destinations.

Last week, Sir Richard Branson urged British travellers to avoid taking domestic flights in a move for people to take greater responsibility and do their bit to reduce carbon emissions.

The Virgin Atlantic boss said: "People should think twice before flying domestically. Domestic air travel is twice as damaging as international air travel and yet there is a clean alternative - the train."

To illustrate the point, a return train ticket from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston costs £219. By contrast, a return flight from Manchester airport to London Heathrow costs an average £171. So, you are financially better off by £48 if you fly, and you get to your destination more than an hour earlier. But, the damage you cause by flying is almost 40 per cent greater.

Conventional political thought suggests that we should pay more to fly to combat the effects of global warming.

In a dramatic about-turn Chancellor Gordon Brown doubled the tax for air travellers as he sought to establish his green credentials, just five years after he halved them.

And, what can we expect to happen if changes are not made? The Stern Report warned that the warming of the planet and the resulting rise in sea-levels will threaten habitats in low-lying areas, notably regions such as Bangladesh, Florida and the Netherlands. Stern suggests that as many as 400 million people could be displaced.

The World Health Organisation claims there are currently over 150,000 deaths each year as a result of climate change. And, in Africa, Christian Aid fears that as many as 182 people could die this century as a direct result of global warming as droughts continue to become more prevalent giving rise to diseases such as malaria.

Manchester Airport

  • Manchester Airport is the 12th busiest European airport
  • It is home to around 95 airlines serving more than 170 worldwide destinations
  • Manchester Airport handles more than 19 million passengers a year
  • Manchester Airport serves 32 per cent of the UK population
  • It is expected to become the UK's second busiest airport in the next 15 years
  • In 2000 Manchester Airport handled nearly 122,000 tonnes of cargo
  • It has an annual turnover of £264.7 million - of which more than £50 million is operating profit
  • The airport currently generates almost £600 million a year for the region and £1.7 billion for national coffers
  • It supports around 85,000 jobs in the UK - 33,000 of them in the North-west.