With aviation expected to become Britain’s single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, activist groups like Possible and Greenpeace and the UK’s Green Party are pushing for a frequent flyer levy to cut down on jet-setting.
A charge that permitted every citizen one tax-free flight annually, with “progressively higher taxes on each additional flight taken,” would be a global first, reports The Guardian. The call to action has been strengthened by UK Department of Transport data showing that “just 1% of English residents are responsible for nearly a fifth of all flights abroad,” and that “10% most frequent flyers in England took more than half of all international flights in 2018,” in marked contrast to the 48% of the population who “did not take a single flight abroad in the last year,” the paper adds.
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“There is this narrative that tackling the climate change problem from aviation means stopping people from taking holidays or seeing their families—and actually, when you look at this data, that is wrong,” said Leo Murray, director of innovation at Possible (formerly 10:10 Climate Action). “What we need to do is target a minority of problem flyers and stop them from taking so many flights.”
The call for a frequent flyer levy gained support from a new report by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), “which urged ministers to put tougher regulations on the international aviation and shipping sectors to keep the economy on track for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” while calling for international aviation to be included in the country’s climate strategy “like any other business sector,” The Guardian adds. That recommendation may be more transformative than it sounds, after aviation and shipping both lobbied successfully to be left out of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Four years later, international airline emissions are still overseen by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which The Guardian says is regarded by some as being “too secretive and close to industry to take on the major polluters”.
As things stand, aviation’s absence from the UK’s national climate target “is a barrier to putting in place good policies to get us on the trajectory to be net-zero overall,” CCC CEO Chris Stark told the Guardian. “In the absence of a true zero-carbon plane, demand cannot continue to grow unfettered over the long term,” the paper adds, citing the CCC report.
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