The travel industry is complacent about its contribution to global warming and has misunderstood the demands of climate change protestors.

Parador Travel Management account manager Robin Helps claimed the media had misrepresented August’s climate change protest at Heathrow, telling delegates at the Advantage Business Travel Conference: “The protesters’ message was ‘no to a third runway’, not about shutting down Heathrow.”

Helps, a founder of carbon consultancy company Less Carbon Helps, said: “I love flying, but we need constraints on growth. Climate change is not going away it is going to get worse and will be catastrophic.”

He added the industry is wrong to repeatedly assert that aviation accounts for only 2% of global CO2 emissions. Aviation produces 5.5% of UK carbon dioxide emissions and is increasing.

Helps quoted the view of Professor Callum Thomas, whose position at Manchester Metropolitan University is sponsored by Manchester airport, that the current growth in air travel is unsustainable even with advances in technology and air traffic management.

But he said managing the travel of corporate clients to reduce their emissions could benefit business travel agents. “Make clear that unless clients book all their travel with you, you can’t manage their carbon footprint,” he said.

However, Star Alliance sales and market development director Peter Glade told the conference: “We have a problem with emissions, but we have to be careful not to be the scapegoat for the problems of the world.”