Cutting air passenger duty to help Flybe could wreck UK carbon plan

(The Guardian, 14 Jan 2020) Frequent flyer levy and cheaper trains would help with environmental pledges – but neither is planned.

Travel from Exeter to Manchester next Wednesday, and a round trip with the airline Flybe returning the next day would cost you £68, of which air passenger duty amounts to £26. A train ticket for the same journey would cost £141.

This kind of price disparity between domestic flights and rail journeys has been the norm for years, the result of under-investment in railways and rail fares allowed to rise at rates much higher than inflation, while regional airports and airlines receive publicly funded incentives and tax breaks on fuel. It comes despite the government’s much-vaunted green policies, and its repeated goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Given these price differences, and the woeful state of many of the UK’s railways, it is easy to see why the UK’s aviation sector is set to become the country’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, if left unchecked. That would blow apart the country’s carbon budgets and the net zero commitment.

The Committee on Climate Change, writing to the government last year, warned: “Plausible options for how aviation could become zero carbon, even by mid-century, are lacking. Given a population that is anticipated to grow and rising incomes, some growth in [aviation] demand is expected. However, this cannot be unfettered.”

If the government presses ahead with plans to cut air passenger duty from domestic flights, as it is proposing in attempts to ensure the survival of Flybe, that would also send the wrong signal to the markets, argues Sam Fankhauser, director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. “Air passenger duty is applied as a green tax, based broadly on the principle that the polluter pays. Cutting or removing [it] would essentially reduce or eliminate the carbon price for flying.”

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The Guardian, 14 Jan 2020: Cutting air passenger duty to help Flybe could wreck UK carbon plan