POLLUTION FROM AIR TRAVEL
Here is a useful report from the Times (November 30, 2002 ) about proposals
by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution for taxation of air travel.
There seems to be an assumption that taxing air travel will somehow
neutralise CO2 emissions. It is true that a substantial tax is likely
to curb the growth of air travel but current levels are unsustainable. For air
travel at anything like current levels to be sustainable, it will be necessary
to find ways of powering planes that does not release fossil CO2 into
the atmosphere. Taxing air travel will certainly provide an incentive for these
developments but it is not clear that a tax of £70 per flight will be
Green tax of £70 a flight 'needed to save planet'
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
AIRLINE passengers should pay a green tax of at least £70 per return ticket
to reduce the amount of global warming caused by flights, the Royal Commission
on Environmental Pollution said yesterday.
The threat to the environment from the rising demand for air travel was so
great that no new runways should be built in Britain, commissioners said.
Short-haul trips, which have boomed in recent years with the rise of budget
airlines, were particularly damaging and should be largely eliminated.
The commission calculates that aviation’s contribution to global warming will
quadruple by 2050 unless demand is checked by a tax on aircraft emissions and a
ban on airport expansion. Airlines immediately condemned the proposals as a “tax
In a report published yesterday the commission accused the Government of
breaching its own commitment to sustainable development by proposing to allow a
tripling in air travel by 2030.
The report says: “The Government shows little sign of having recognised these
problems but regards further substantial growth in aviation as inevitable. It is
imperative that environmental priorities are not simply sidelined as being too
The commission is an independent body of senior scientists and environment
experts that issues reports to Parliament.
Roland Clift, Professor of Environmental Technology at Surrey University,
said that the growing trend towards taking weekend breaks to European capitals
was unsustainable. Short-haul flights caused more pollution per mile travelled
than long-haul flights because a fifth of all fuel was used in taking off and
The commission argues that its proposed emissions tax should be reinvested in
better rail links. It says that rail travel is far less polluting and could
replace nearly all domestic flights.
Professor Clift admitted that many journeys to Europe would take too long by
rail. “We will have to return to the time when going away for the weekend meant
York or Bath, not Venice,” he said. Asked whether this meant that future
generations would no longer be able to travel the world, he replied: “That’s
what we are saying.”
Paul Ekins, head of environment at the Policy Studies Institute and another
commission member, said that the Government would be guilty of a huge waste of
money if it approved new runways or airports. He said that they would have to
remain empty to prevent climate change.
Ministers are consulting on several options for expanding airport capacity to
meet demand, including a short third runway at Heathrow, up to three more
runways at Stansted and a four or five-runway airport at Cliffe in north Kent.
New runways at Gatwick will also be included in the options after ministers lost
a High Court battle this week.
The Government has predicted that existing capacity will run out at South
East airports by 2015 and that ticket prices will rise by £100 by 2030 if no new
runways are built.
But the commission says that growth must be restricted, not just by refusing
to build more runways but by imposing a European-wide emissions tax. This would
be levied on airlines but should be recorded on tickets to “send an important
signal to travellers”. The tax should initially be set at £35 for a single
journey but this would have to rise to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check.
Roger Wiltshire, secretary-general of the British Air Transport Association,
which represents UK airlines, said: “The commission is proposing a return to
postwar rationing. This would be a tax on holidays and essential business
journeys . . . If the commission has its way the UK will become a difficult
place to visit and to leave.”
The commission accepts that forcing up the cost of air travel would make it
too expensive for many people. But John Spiers, a commission member and
president of the National Society for Clean Air, said that the Government could
introduce a voucher system to ensure equal access.
The Department for Transport has suggested that air fares would need to be
taxed at a maximum of 10 per cent to cover the environmental cost of each