FAQs on why we need a Green Flying Duty

Q: Why aren’t carbon offsets a good idea?
A: Carbon offsets will never tackle the real issue that we face – that we need radical reductions in emissions at unprecedented speed. Not in years to come, but in months to come. Friends of the Earth have previously described them as a ‘dangerous distraction’ from the real issue of reductions. In addition, a 2017 study of offsets, commissioned by the European Commission, found that 85 percent of offset projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) had failed to reduce emissions. This clearly shows that even the very best schemes don’t work. There is something fundamentally flawed about paying someone else to reduce your emissions for you.

More on offsets here

Q: Are you telling people to fly less?
A: We are a travel business, we are not anti tourism or anti all flying, but we need to change the way in which we travel if we are to avert the global heating crisis. We are very aware of the benefits tourism brings locally, indeed for the past 18 years we’ve been working to maximise this and to promote the best examples globally.

Overall, the world needs to fly less until we can decarbonise plane travel. The solution to aviation and the climate crisis must come from government, not from a small minority of caring people voluntarily choosing to fly less (this is welcome but won’t solve the problem) because they feel guilty. It is rarely the frequent flyers, jetting around the world, emitting the most, who are voluntarily choosing to fly less. The reality is, that guilt should lie with governments for not acting.

Q: Don’t we already pay enough Air Passenger Duty?
A: No, we need to pay enough to reduce demand, which isn’t currently happening. In 2017 APD raised £3.4bn. However, aviation fuel is exempt from tax and VAT. In comparison, for petrol cars, around 65% of the UK pump price goes on tax and VAT. In 2013 AEF calculated in the UK if jet fuel was taxed at a similar rate to petrol and diesel, this would generate around £10bn annually. So by bringing in just £3.4bn in 2017, this represents a £6.6bn saving for airlines – or the equivalent of every UK household subsidising aviation by over £240 even if they choose not to fly themselves.

According to Ethical Corporation, there has been no discernible impact on passenger numbers since the UK introduced air passenger duty in 1994. Clearly, the levels are not yet at a place which is altering demand. However, in April 2019, it was reported in the Financial Times that UK domestic passengers had fallen 10%, between 2007 – 2017, citing APD as a reason. This is a promising sign.

Here are the current rates:

Rates from 1 April 2019

Destination bands Reduced rate Standard rate Higher rate
Band A £13 £26 £78
Band B £78 (nothing for those aged under 16) £172 £515

Rates from 1 April 2020

Destination bands Reduced rate Standard rate Higher rate
Band A £13 £26 £78
Band B £80 (nothing for those aged under 16) £176 £528

Q: Are there already supporters of these ideas out there?
A: Other states have followed the UK example (albeit at a rate that is too low), including:
  • Norway - Norwegian Air Passenger Tax
  • Austria - Austrian Air Transport Levy
  • Germany - German Aviation Tax
  • Sweden - Swedish Aviation Tax

Malaysia also has plans to introduce an Air Passenger Departure Levy.

The Netherlands has previously introduced a tax domestically on aviation fuel, as has Norway, Switzerland and Japan.

Belgium and the Netherlands are now campaigning for the introduction of a tax on aviation fuel at an EU-wide level and have support from France, Sweden and Luxembourg.

Even economists from the IMF and World Bank believe it is time to address this issue.

And last year, 19 economists wrote to President Juncker of the European Union and suggested a tax on aviation

There are also many NGOs and campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth, Aviation Environment Federation and Fellow Travellers who support a heavier tax for aviation.

Q: If flight prices go up, will this price people out of being able to go on holiday? Is this an elitist tax?
A: For most people it will change their holiday patterns. They might take fewer holidays with flights. This might mean more holidays closer to home, or just fewer but longer holidays involving a flight. For some people it might rule out a flying holiday altogether.

Our plan seeks to minimise ‘elitism’ by taxing first class, business and premium passengers at higher rates. However, economy will have to go up too if we are to seek to reduce demand.

At the moment, almost half of the population doesn’t fly at all in any given year, and 70 percent of all UK flights are taken by just 15 percent of people – a group with typically double the income of the average UK citizen. The reality is that the “average family” does not take regular long-distance flights. Worldwide, it is estimated that 95 percent of people have never even set foot on a plane. The great majority of flying is done by better off people and it seems entirely reasonable they should help compensate for the damage caused by their flights.

It may be uncomfortable to think about increasing the cost of holidays. However, it is less comfortable to think about the affects of global heating. There is no way to reduce aviation emissions in the timeframe needed, without tackling demand.

This is also about giving everyone equal choice. At the moment we are all subsidising air travellers when many of us aren’t frequent flyers. This is unfair. UK households are subsidising the airline industry to the tune of £240 a year, regardless of whether they choose to fly or not. This has to stop.

In fact, when Finnair asked its customers if they would be willing to pay to reduce the carbon footprint of their air travel, more than 70% of them said yes – but only if the money was to be used for environmental work.

Q: What do you think about the UK’s airport expansion plans?
A: We need a reduction in demand, so we don’t need airport expansion.

Q: Isn’t this a death knell for the tourism industry, especially for some of the low cost airlines which are already struggling?
A: Every living person and every living creature on earth faces the catastrophic consequences of global heating if we continue to prioritise the profits of airlines and the pastimes of the predominantly wealthy who frequently fly. With just 11 years left to make the reductions necessary to keep below 1.5°C some tough choices are needed. If we choose the wrong path, well-loved tourism destinations, communities and landscapes around the world will face the consequences. Many places, such as The Great Barrier Reef, are already struggling as a result of the climate crisis. Reducing emissions is the only way the tourism industry - as well as the places and communities on which it relies - can have a truly sustainable future.

Q: How will this affect the growth of your business?
A: We would hope that increasing Air Passenger Duty (APD) - a new Green Flying Duty - would curb demand for flying and indeed, this would have an effect on some travel businesses. We don’t yet know how the future will look in this regard, but what is evident is that the industry will need to adapt whilst we move towards a more sustainable future. If we are successful then the way we sell our holidays will change massively. One possible outcome is that people take fewer but longer holidays – much as we used to do. This would reduce the number of flights we take.

The cost of all our holidays will go up because flying will be more expensive until we have electric or hydrogen planes and/or electrofuels. We are lobbying for the cost of holidays to increase, and for all the funds raised to be used to accelerate the decarbonisation of air travel. We will have to work doubly hard to develop and promote the responsibility of our holidays. The responsible tourism sector currently has a minuscule share of what is a huge global industry. We hope to see the sector benefit as a result of this shift towards sustainability.

In 2009 we stop offering carbon offsetting as an add-on service for customers as we believe that offsets are a dangerous distraction from the main issue - that of reduction. As a result, we published a ‘carbon caution’ on our site. We encouraged customers to fly less and take longer holidays when they do fly so that they can make more of a difference in destinations. However, we now need to produce massive global reductions in less than 11 years. That’s why we have come up with the new plan outlined in the manifesto.

Q: Are you going to start offering lots of UK holidays, and trips by rail to Europe so emissions will be reduced?
A: The UK holiday market is very well provided for already. We offer many railway holidays and all our holidays can be booked without flights – so you can travel overland to the start point. As part of what we are proposing, we hope to see more investment in railways so that prices come down and travellers have more options when it comes to alternative transport.

Q: How do you plan to help make sure an APD increase happens? And that this Green Flying Duty is rolled out internationally? Surely this is out of your control?
A: Globally, some governments are already making some moves in the right direction. We are lobbying the government and industry and will continue to be outspoken on this issue in the media, and via our own publishing arm of our business, until we can see real change happening. Airlines cannot continue to hide from their responsibilities on the climate crisis. The air industry lobbying machine has to face up to some home truths and accept the sector has to play its part in reducing global emissions. The time has come for large scale, industry level regulation.

If we are successful then the way we sell our holidays will change massively. The cost of all our holidays will go up because flying will be more expensive until we have electric or hydrogen planes and/or electrofuels. We are lobbying for the cost of holidays to increase, and for all the funds raised to be used to accelerate decarbonisation. We will have to work doubly hard to develop and promote the responsibility of our holidays to grow our business.

Q: You sell holidays priced as ‘including flights’, will you stop doing this?
A: All our holidays can be booked without a flight.

Q: Should you stop selling long haul flights now, given their environmental impact?
We have customers booking our trips from all over the world, not just the UK where we are based, so depending on where they live, customers have the choice as to how they reach their holiday starting point. We don’t regulate where they are from and therefore the distance they are ‘permitted’ to fly.

Since 2009, our advice has been that travellers should take fewer, longer holidays. If or when they decide to fly to their holiday destination, it is now more important than ever that they choose a responsible holiday that benefits local communities and minimises environmental impacts when they get there.

We also need to stay mindful of the role that responsible tourism plays in the global economy and within individual communities. Tourism employs 1 in 10 people globally, and offers opportunities for the poor whose only assets are their culture, environments and ways of life, and for whom most industries are inaccessible. Tourism can also fund and justify protecting and enhancing the world’s cultural and natural diversity when there are often other burning priorities. Instead of having no solutions to aviation and the climate crisis, we can take control and make a plan to deliver it. In a fractured, increasingly homogeneous and unequal world what a truly incredible opportunity we have.

Q: What can/should people do whilst they wait for government action?
A: Don’t wait for government action, demand it! Visit or write to your local politician and national Transport Minister calling for urgent action on aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis. Cut down on mini city breaks, fly less and instead take fewer, longer holidays. When you do fly, fly direct and in economy class. You can also look into which airlines have the lowest emissions per passenger mile – there are surprisingly huge variations between different operators. And when you do fly, make it count by choosing a holiday that benefits local communities and wildlife, and minimises its environmental impacts in destinations.

Q: Why don’t you recommend global roll out of the ETS, which caps emissions?
A: The EU ETS only applies to flights within the European Economic Area (since 2012). The success of the scheme will depend on the allowance price, the cap and its scope. Its scope is its biggest limitation where airlines are concerned, covering just 40 percent of the region’s emissions. With the development of the global Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to tackle emissions, there could be legal implications for the EU if it continues to apply the scheme for intra-EU flights once CORSIA comes into effect in 2021.

Q: The UK has been involved in the EU ETS and CORSIA with the aim of making an impact on the climate crisis. Would you suggest the UK abandon their commitment to such schemes?
A: As we’ve demonstrated in the manifesto, neither of these can work. We should replace with The Green Flying Duty instead. These schemes are at risk of distracting from the real issue which is one of necessary reductions (as opposed to offsets which we know do not work). Whilst they offer some degree of global or European cooperation we must now prioritise national actions for policy change. Perhaps when we get that right we can influence others through these existing networks.

Q: How many flights (long and short haul) did your CEO take last year?
A: One short haul, one long haul.

Q: How would this increase work in theory? How much would prices go up?
A: Considerable research needs to be done into the amount of increase required to effect demand. Research has shown that raising fares by 10 percent would result in a 5 to 15 percent reduction in demand.

Q: You show great support for electric planes. Aren’t you living in cloud cuckoo land?
A: There is fantastic progress being made around low carbon planes (electric, hybrid, hydrogen) and electrofuels. The Norwegian government has set a goal of making all domestic flights electric by 2040 and easyJet hopes to fly electric planes on some routes by 2027.

We are also realistic that although we are getting much closer to seeing electric planes on commercial short haul routes and that these may make some contribution to aviation emissions reductions in some countries, for us here in the UK we are realistically looking at a maximum reduction of 13% of emissions (for short haul routes of up to 1500km with 150 passengers). Over 70% of UK aviation emissions stem from long haul flights. We therefore need further investment and clear commitment and support from government for R&D opportunities, including those presented by electrofuels.

Q: What about VAT?
A: VAT in the EU is charged only on domestic flights. According to calculations by European campaign group Environment & Transport, levying 15% VAT on all EU flights would raise €17bn.

Q: Why has there been such limited action on aviation for so long?
A: The industry has had a very effective lobbying arm in place, putting pressure on governments, resulting in other industries propping up the continued growth in emissions from aviation. This has got to stop. Because of the international nature of aviation emissions, it has proven difficult to come up with a successful global scheme to tackle aviation – something that national governments remained hopeful for since the inception of CORSIA which is due to start in 2021. However, it’s abundantly clear now that CORSIA is not going to deliver the strategy or the emissions reductions that are needed. It’s time for national governments, and in turn the aviation industry, to step up to the mark and play its part.

Q: You’ve been clear about what you’d like governments to do. What about the travel industry?
A: Many will strongly oppose any levy on aviation. The tobacco industry fought against everything to limit smoking. The fossil fuel industry fought against the very concept of global heating.

Governments created change in these cases without any support from the industry, in fact in the face of strong opposition. If we are to avert global heating the same must happen with aviation. We need policy changes on aviation. This is now the reality and is beginning to be recognised by shareholders and investors too.

We believe the responsible movement will come to support this, because they are about more than profits and will relish the opportunity to compete with mainstream industry on ethical grounds.

Carbon reducing technologies on aircraft will not provide the cuts needed. The industry needs to recognise that a tax at a level high enough to affect demand is the only way forward - until such a time where we can decarbonise the industry.

We need the industry to embrace a decarbonised future. Investment and incentivisation will be key. As the UK government’s own advisory committee (The Committee on Climate Change) has recently said in a letter (from Lord Deben) to the government, the UK strategy "will also require steps to limit growth in demand." And "In the absence of a true zero-carbon plane, demand cannot continue to grow unfettered over the long-term."

Q: What do you think a hotel worker in Kenya, who works hard in her job in tourism to earn an income and feed her five children, would say to your proposals?
A: We understand – she would of course be worried for her family’s future. Ultimately however, the climate crisis is something that has potential consequences for communities all over the world. It is our moral duty to act on this whilst at the same time, balancing this with the need to sustain livelihoods that rely on tourism. Indeed, tourism employs 1 in 10 people around the world. However, the climate crisis is a colossal threat to many people in the developing world; we need to take control and make a plan to deliver the necessary cuts in global emissions. In a fractured, increasingly homogeneous and unequal world what a truly incredible opportunity we have.

Q: Why not tax emissions instead? Or airlines for the aircraft used? Or introduce a Frequent Flyer Levy?
A: Other options are out there but are perhaps more complicated, costly and time consuming to implement and administer. A reform to APD can happen quickly, economically and at the scale needed.

Written by Justin Francis