Air miles schemes must be banned because they encourage excessive flying, according to a report commissioned by the government’s climate change advisers.
All advertisements for flights should include information about their emissions expressed in a simple way to make people think about the impact on the climate of their trips, the report says.
It also recommends an “escalating frequent flyer levy” on distance flown to target the 15 per cent of the population who take 70 per cent of flights.
The report by Imperial College London, commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), says that frequent flyer loyalty schemes are particularly damaging because they can result in people taking extra flights simply to “maintain their privileged-traveller status”.
Theresa May adopted that target in legislation in June in one of her final acts as prime minister, making the UK the first major economy to bind itself to such an ambitious target.
Imperial College London’s report sets out how that target could be achieved. It says the government must abandon its approach of encouraging households “to make small and easy changes” and instead seek “high-impact shifts in consumer behaviours and choices”.
It says that the government should “introduce a ban on air miles and frequent flyer loyalty schemes that incentivise excessive flying”.
It also recommends making meat more expensive by reducing subsidies for livestock farmers.
It calls for mandatory labels on food showing the product’s impact on the climate. Supermarkets would be required to show shoppers the total carbon impact of their groceries on the receipt and inform them how it compared with a household with a sustainable diet.
All canteens in the public sector should be required to have at least one vegan option “available to everyone every day”.
Switching from cars to trains should be encouraged by cutting the price of long-distance travel, with the report suggesting that a ticket from London to Edinburgh should cost £25. It calls for disused rail lines to be reopened.
Electricity should be made cheaper by shifting more of the taxes on household energy to gas.
Much of the report focuses on the need to limit flights, for which it says there is no low-carbon alternative.
It says: “Flying is a uniquely high-impact activity and is the quickest and cheapest way for a consumer to increase their carbon footprint. The emissions from one return ticket from London to New York are roughly equivalent to that of heating a typical home for a whole year.
“Low-carbon aviation technology is expected to remain technically unfeasible and so it is vital to restrain rising demand, despite this having been considered politically difficult to address hitherto. Aviation has so far enjoyed generous tax treatment despite a large proportion of flights being taken by a small, wealthy segment of the population.”
The report adds that if the government fails to adopt tough measures targeting frequent flyers its climate policy is “likely to be increasingly seen as inconsistent and unjust and risks damaging public engagement with climate action”.
Airlines UK, a trade body, criticised the report, saying that if the UK adopted unilateral measures targeting aviation, such as banning air miles, it would damage the country’s reputation and could result in people taking more flights from other countries.
Key recommendations in the Imperial College London report commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change:
– Mandatory labels on food should show climate impact
– Total carbon impact of your weekly shop should be shown on till receipts
– The price of meat and dairy should be raised by reducing subsidies for livestock farmers
– Public-sector canteens should offer vegan option at all times
– Air miles and frequent flyer reward schemes should be banned
– An escalating levy on flights based on total distance flown should be introduced
– The price of intercity rail travel should be cut
– Disused rail lines should be reopened
– Tax should be reduced on electricity