Zero Carbon 2050: The end of the era of super cheap, tax-subsidised aviation?

Theresa May announced zero carbon 2050 and released a film thanking a number of business leaders for their support. I was happy to be one of them. Our voices aren’t always heard, so we warmly welcome the government’s recent announcement that it is committing to the UK having net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It’s a bold move and, as the first of the G7 countries to make such a defining statement, one that should be celebrated.

The international aviation industry, alongside the international shipping industry, escaped inclusion in individual states’ action plans under the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Climate Agreement. However, as one of the fastest growing contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, the aviation industry will have to be included in any carbon reduction plans in the UK if we are to succeed in reaching our 2050 target.
The government advisory Committee on Climate Change has been very clear that this target cannot be met through carbon credits. For this to succeed there needs to be an absolute reduction in emissions. Other sectors will not be able or be willing to take up the slack from the aviation industry if it doesn’t pull its weight and with international tourism arrivals into the UK predicted to increase 50-100% over the next 10 years, technological advancements increasing aircraft efficiency will be not make enough difference. Additionally, commercially viable electric aircraft – which we believe will be the ultimate solution to aviation pollution – are realistically still 30 years away. We are left with one solution. Reducing the number of flights we take is the only option available if we are to hit our 2050 target. The era of super-cheap ‘go to Italy for the same cost as a pizza’ flights must end now.
These cheap flights have never been the product of clever marketing or revolutionary business models. They exist as a direct result of the huge tax breaks on international aviation fuel enjoyed by UK airlines – estimated at £6.6 billion annually in the UK alone. When it comes to air travel the polluter most definitely doesn’t pay.
While we can encourage people to fly less, to choose one long vacation over several shorter trips, or to swap some overseas jaunts for more local escapes accessible by rail, ultimately only an increase in airfare costs will significantly change our behaviour. Studies have shown that raising fares by just 10% would lead to a 5 to 15% decrease in demand for flights. As such, we propose the implantation of a Green Flying Duty - based on a reformed version of the UK Air Passenger Duty – which ends the airlines’ tax break and is ring-fenced for investment into electric flight and other ways to decarbonise air travel.
But is this unfair? Surely everyone, rich and poor alike, deserves to be able to spend a very cheap week under the Spanish sun? Perhaps, but if we’re considering what’s fair, consider that the effects of climate change are going to be hardest on the world’s poorest people – the 95% of the population for whom even taking a cheap flight is out of the question. Global aviation emissions are predicted to grow 300% by 2050. We’ve reached the point where difficult choices have to be made.

Net zero carbon by 2050 is a laudable, world-leading target of which we should be rightly proud. We want the world to follow our lead and not falling short becomes not a matter of national pride but instead one on which the health of our planet rests. This is a target that can’t accommodate an ever-growing, available-to-all aviation industry. The era of low-cost flights has to end and now is the time to make the difficult decisions that will effectively reduce the amount we all fly.
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Phillip Capper]  [Easyjet plane: Colin Brown Photography]
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