Air travel CO2 emissions will have to be curbed; the Frequent Flier levy may be the best solution
An article in the Irish Times points to new research from the ICAO showing how CO2 emissions from aviation might increase 3 -7-fold over the next 30 years has been released. Amusingly Richard Branson is advocating the elimination of industrial-scale meat production by “eliminating harmful subsidies and putting a price on externalities”. And that without an apparent hint of irony, in the subsidies (no VAT, no fuel duty) given to the aviation sector – which is a major beneficiary of comparable harmful subsidies ,and a producer of vast externalities of the sort he decries in the meat sector. The Irish Government is committed to spending at least €320 million on new runway at Dublin airport – another giant subsidy to the sector. There is “No other discrete human activity is more intensely polluting than flying.” Eating less meat, or cutting it out entirely, is indeed a positive action to help reduce humanity’s carbon emissions. But that is not a substitute for taking proper action to limit aviation carbon emissions. The “Frequent Flyer” levy, which would progressively tax air travellers, with higher taxes the more they flew, would be a good way to penalise frequent flyers (who are currently pampered by airlines with upgrades and incentives.)
See the A Free Ride website about the frequent flyer levy: http://afreeride.org/
on Twitter at A Free Ride ✈️ @a_free_ride
Aviation is the red meat in the greenhouse gas sandwich
At any given time there are 10,000 passenger aircraft in the sky carrying over a million people, 24 hours a day, every day
New research from the international Civil Aviation Organisation showing how carbon emissions from aviation are due to increase seven-fold over the next three decades was released just in time to make awkward reading for our high-flying Cabinet members.
Ireland traditionally dispatches Ministers around the globe to fly the flag for St Patrick’s Day. Other than occasional grumbles about costs and suggestions of junketeering, these foreign forays have rarely attracted sustained negative criticism, and certainly never from the agricultural sector.
According to Pat McCormack of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, if the Government is serious about climate change maybe it should not be sending representatives around the world for St Patrick’s Day given the staggering damage done by emissions from aviation.
While farm leaders are understandably keen to switch the focus of scrutiny over pollution elsewhere, and their new-found concern for aviation emissions should be seen in this light, airline entrepreneur Richard Branson has been quick to turn the table.
“Eating meat the way we do has serious consequences. The global supply chain for conventional meat is a major greenhouse gas emitter…and wreaks havoc on the world’s ecosystems,” he claims.
His solution? The elimination of industrial-scale meat production by “eliminating harmful subsidies and putting a price on externalities”, Branson argued, without an apparent hint of irony.
No other discrete human activity is more intensely polluting than flying
Aviation is, after all, a major beneficiary of the harmful subsidies and a producer of vast externalities of the sort he decries in the meat sector. The recently published Lancet EAT Commission report recommended a 90 per cent cut in red meat and dairy consumption, pointing out that our animal-based food production systems are fuelling climate change and exhausting natural resources.
However, no other discrete human activity is more intensely polluting than flying. Yet rather than being hammered, the aviation industry instead benefits from tax breaks and subsidies other sectors could only dream of. The Irish Government is committed to spending at least €320 million on new runway at Dublin airport – another giant subsidy to the sector.
Tax and duties
Jet fuel, due to an antiquated international agreement from 1944, is completely exempt from tax and duties. Taxing it at a modest rate of 33 cent per litre would generate nearly €10 billion in revenues within the EU. Airline tickets are, bizarrely, VAT-exempt. Raising this to 15 per cent would bring in another €17 billion annually.
Further, were airlines required to pay the full cost of their emissions this would, according to a 2018 study by the NGO Transport & Environment (T&E),“make a major contribution to addressing aviation’s climate impact by removing a perverse subsidy to the single most climate-intensive form of transport”.
Flying would become more expensive, but it is currently vastly under-priced. The current average price of a one-way airline ticket within the EU is €80. Fuel taxes and VAT would push that up to €106, according to the T&E analysis. However, that level of increase is unlikely to persuade many people to fly less often.
While the Lancet EAT Commission recommended a drastic 90 per cent cut in meat and dairy consumption if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, the same metric could as easily be applied to aviation. At any given moment there are almost 10,000 passenger aircraft in the sky carrying well over a million people, 24 hours a day, every day.
According to the CSO, 34.4 million passengers passed through the main Irish airports in 2017. The average Irish person takes almost seven flights a year, and 6 per cent of Aer Lingus customers fly more than 20 times annually.
Rather than being penalised for their massive carbon footprint, frequent flyers are instead pampered by airlines with upgrades and incentives.
The real point of rationing is not to raise revenue but to constrain demand, and vast amounts of the flying we now do is frivolous in the extreme
Since ratcheting up the ticket price simply serves to penalise people with lower incomes while failing to deter higher-income flyers, my suggestion for a fairer system would be to allocate an annual personal aviation mileage allowance. This would be connected to each citizen’s PPS number and be strictly non-transferable.
While everyone is allocated, say, a 1,500km annual flying allowance (the equivalent of one round trip to Paris per person) at no additional cost, if you then decide to also take a weekend shopping trip to New York this 10,000km round trip, which generates the carbon-dioxide equivalent of around 1.5 tonnes per passenger, might add €500 to the ticket price. This ratchets sharply upwards from there, deterring even the wealthy. (For more details, see http://afreeride.org/ “A Free Ride” – the campaign for a fair way to fly )
The real point of rationing is not to raise revenue but to constrain demand, and vast amounts of the flying we now do is frivolous in the extreme. Irish people think nothing of having their wedding in Dubai, or stag parties in Berlin, confident the (relatively) low fares mean their family and friends will join them for a celebration that could as easily have been held locally.
A growing number of environmentalist and climate scientists have vowed to give up or severely curtail flying, most notably 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. She last week berated world leaders and billionaires in Davos (most of whom travelled in private jets) for their greed and hypocrisy while doing nothing to avert a global climate catastrophe.
Nobody takes a decision to quit flying lightly. Nine in 10 humans will never set foot on an aircraft yet they are the people already bearing the brunt of the extreme impacts of our high-emissions lifestyles.
It wouldn’t kill us to eat less meat and dairy. Nor would it kill us to fly much less often. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for failing to avert climate breakdown while this is still even possible.
John Gibbons is an environmental writer and commentator
Aviation emissions set to grow sevenfold over 30 years, experts warn
EU aviation fuel tax mooted by France would penalise most heavily those who fly most
Jan 26, 2019
Kevin O’Sullivan Environment & Science Editor (Irish Times)
A return trip from Europe to Australia generates about 4.5 tonnes of carbon.
International aviation carbon emission could grow seven-fold over the next 30 years despite climate change concerns, according to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) figures . [ https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/aviation_en European Commission said in Nov 2018 According to the European Commission, “by 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70% higher than in 2005 and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forecasts that by 2050 they could grow by a further 300-700%. (
Aviation, particularly the role played by frequent fliers, is rarely mentioned in the climate debate, yet air travellers, particularly those flying business class, are among the world’s worst carbon polluters.
Global aviation emissions will be 70 per cent higher in 2020 than they were in 2005, according to the European Commission, while the ICAO forecasts that by 2050 emissions could have grown by between 300 per cent and 700 per cent.
Irish aviation emissions are likely to be similar to the 6 per cent share recorded in the United Kingdom, though the Environmental Protection Agency has warned that Ireland’s aviation emissions are increasing sharply.
Until recently, aviation had not been central to the climate change debate. Enjoying special status, aviation and shipping were excluded from the landmark Kyoto and Paris climate-change agreements.
Urged to produce its own solutions, the ICAO introduced a global scheme in 2016, after much foot-dragging. So far, however, it has had limited success.
The European Union has introduced a more robust system under its emissions trading scheme. So airlines that fly to, from or within EU countries must buy carbon credits to offset emissions.
Modern aircraft are 70 per cent more fuel-efficient than 40 years ago, while airlines with the highest load factors produce significantly less emissions per passenger than less successful ones.
Aviation consumes five million barrels of oil every day, contributing about 2.5 per cent of global emissions. Some climatologists, however, argue its real impact is much higher.
Calculating its exact impact is complex as greenhouse gases are released into the upper atmosphere, but the same gases have different effects when emitted at ground level.
However, some basic numbers are not in doubt: a return trip from Europe to Australia generates about 4.5 tonnes of carbon. A car driving for 2,000km emits less than that.
Airlines are increasingly seeking solutions. Airbus, Boeing and Embraer are working together on new affordable bio-fuels. However, the electric aircraft is years away.
Offsetting helps, but only partially. A recent study by the European Commission found that 85 per cent of offset projects it had evaluated had failed to reduce emissions.
Aviation is not subject to fuel tax or VAT-style taxes. French environment minister François de Rugy has floated an EU tax on aviation fuel that would penalise most heavily those who fly most.
Ticket taxes could be linked to emissions and flight distances. An aviation ticket tax in the EU would be lawful if it was not linked to fuel consumption and if it was applied at a common level throughout the bloc.
It proposes four possible taxes: one based on lifestyle emissions of the fuel used, one based on nitrogen oxides emissions, one judged by distance flown, and a hybrid of an aviation tax and climate impact charge.