By Roger Harrabin
The UK is set to announce a scheme to promote clean energy in developing countries by paying into a fund every time a minister or civil servant takes a trip by air.
Future flights for UK officials will pay into a green fund
The idea is to offset the climate change impact of the carbon dioxide emissions from flying.
The scheme will begin next month in at least three departments - The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development (Dfid).
These are the major travellers and the fund from their flights could raise around £500,000 a year.
The proceeds will be invested in projects such as solar cookers in India, home insulation in the townships of South Africa and micro-hydro in Sri Lanka.
An independent assessor will be asked to calculate the size of the payment based on the number of air miles flown and the altitude.
If planes fly higher, their emissions are believed to contribute more to climate change.
Details will be announced as part of the government's sustainable development strategy to be launched on Monday.
Environmentalists say the plan is a welcome step towards taking responsibility for CO2 but point out that the benefit will be dwarfed by the increase in emissions from the Department for Transport's (DfT) recent Aviation Bill.
Defra's objections to the bill were over-ridden by the Prime Minister's reluctance to make cheap flights more expensive.
The DfT has been holding out against paying into the scheme even though its ministers are not heavy air travellers.
Some officials believe the department would be unwise to draw attention to transport's role in climate change as emissions from cars and planes are growing as the government attempts to cut CO2 by 20%.
Defra hope that the DfT can be roped into the scheme before Monday.
"This is an excellent and innovative idea," said former Tory environment secretary John Gummer. "But it should not mask the appalling rise in emissions that will emanate from this government's disastrous aviation policy."
Defra is looking at a number of schemes for offsetting CO2 from air travel. Civil servants have been enthused by a new sunlight cooking technology that was featured on BBC's Six o'Clock News on Friday.
A German inventor Wolfgang Scheffler has designed a dish that tracks the Sun by clockwork and focuses a concentrated beam on to the bottom of a cooking pot. The 1.5m-square family-sized solar dish follows successful 8m-sq designs that are already driving many canteen ovens in sunnier parts of the world.
Mr Scheffler says he has made no money from his invention. He has designed the new dish so it can be made from steel and mirrors in any village metalworks. He is collaborating with Atmosfair, a German NGO who are working to promote the technology.
Defra like the scheme because it has wider benefits than the early carbon offset projects that involved tree-planting and buying forests.
Scheffler dishes can be locally produced
These were dogged by contention over verification and ownership. The second-generation carbon offset projects look to maximise benefits for development as well as environment.
"This is obviously a great idea if we can help people in developing countries live a healthier and more economically productive life while also minimising pollution," said a Defra official.
The government is now trying to persuade UK airlines to offer an option on their online booking forms so all air passengers can easily offset the carbon they produce.
Around half the world's population depends on wood for cooking. Collecting the wood is arduous, time-consuming and sometime dangerous. What is more, smoke from cooking with wood and dung is estimated to kill about two million people a year - many more than high-profile diseases like malaria.
The solar dishes can be used for water purification and air conditioning - and are being developed for use as clean crematoria.
Half the 100-euro cost of a family-size dish is currently subsidised by the Indian government - but that still puts it out of the reach of the poor.
"The question is how can we really get this technology to the people?" says Deepak Gadhia, and Indian environmentalist who manufactures some of the dishes.
"They are a fantastic development tool. A woman can take a loan to buy one then soon pay it off with the extra money she makes from the free heat throughout the day by selling clean water or doing extra baking."
Mr Gadhia applauded Defra's initiative but said he hoped it would not be a "fig leaf" for increasing Britain's CO2 emissions that could contribute to climate change in India.