Frequent flyers should face higher taxes to help tackle aviation emissions, the government’s climate advisers say. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says a ‘frequent flyer levy’ would help curb the growing demand for air travel.
Analysis shows that 70% of UK flights are made by a wealthy 15% of the population, with 57% not flying abroad at all. The government says it will study the recommendations.
Aviation is set to be the biggest source of UK emissions by 2050 – a ministers are planning for an increase of up to 49% in flying. The committee is recommending growth be limited to 25% of current levels.
The CCC said frequent flyers were a large part of the problem, but it is not clear how a levy would work in practice. For example, would it apply to businesses at a time when the UK wants to stimulate trade with other nations? And how would you stop people pretending their flights were for work purposes to avoid paying it?
Other solutions could include increasing taxes on airlines, or restricting airport capacity, the committee said.
But it warned that if the planned expansion of Heathrow airport went ahead it would leave very little growth room at other UK airports.
The government has been hoping to solve problems of aviation emissions through new technology, including battery-powered short-haul planes and long-haul planes running on sustainable biofuels.
The committee says aviation emissions could be reduced by about 20% from today to 2050 through improvements to fuel efficiency.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, committee chairman Lord Deben said that the industry is “highly unlikely” to be able to eliminate emissions by 2050 by technical means.
He warns that contrails – the trails of condensed water left by aircraft at high altitude – add to the warming impact of flying, even though currently their effects are poorly understood.
Lord Deben added that the UK should continue pushing for strong international policies on aviation.
Currently, the airline industry is hoping to counterbalance its emissions through the controversial practice of offsetting, in which firms agree to pay for, say, tree-planting in developing countries.
Neil Robinson, from the industry group Sustainable Aviation, urged the government not to adopt stand-alone UK policies on aviation pollution. He said: “By investing tens of billions of pounds in new, cleaner aircraft we have already decoupled growth in aviation from growth in emissions, and as a global industry we have a long-established plan to halve our emissions by 2050.
“Carbon reduction, however, is a global issue requiring a global response, with governments and industry working closely together for emissions to be managed within an international framework.”
A government spokesman said: “We are also committed to setting a clear ambition for the aviation sector and will carefully consider the advice of the Committee on Climate Change when we publish our position on aviation and climate change for consultation shortly.”