The nascent “flight-shaming” movement in Europe aimed at reducing carbon emissions is gaining some academic backing from a new British report that suggests radical changes in government policies toward air travel – including a ban on frequent flyer programs and a distance-based tax on individuals’ flights.
The report was created for the U.K.’s Committee on Climate Change, an independent government advisory group, by Richard Carmichael at the Imperial College London. The committee is trying to come up with ways that the U.K. can meet its goal of net-zero carbon emissions within 30 years.
Carmichael’s report has recommendations for a wide range of social behavior, from home heating technology to sustainable diets to electric vehicles. But its suggestions for changes in air travel behavior are sure to raise hackles in the airline industry and among frequent flyers.
The report notes that airline flights currently account for about 12 percent of the typical British household’s carbon emissions, but with industry forecasts predicting continued growth in commercial flying through 2050, that figure could rise to 30 percent, assuming no significant changes in aircraft technology.
What can governments do to reverse the trend? “Well-designed fiscal measures could offer effective, fair and publicly acceptable means to confront the risk of unrestrained growth in (air travel) demand in the absence of alternative low-carbon aviation technologies,” the report says. “Fairness and how impacts are distributed are of key importance to public acceptability of policy in general and will be especially important for aviation.”
It notes that the individual traveler’s carbon footprint is much greater for long-haul than short-haul flights, and for premium-cabin travel as opposed to standard coach.
The report’s first recommendation is to introduce an “air miles levy,” or individual tax, that increases with total distance flown, and also “factors in larger emissions for first class tickets.” As the report puts it, “this would provide strong price signals against excessive flying by 15 percent of the U.K. population responsible for 70 percent of flights without raising prices for other travelers as an aviation fuel tax would.”
See how a demonstrator in London tried to bring attention to the impact of air travel on climate change in the tweet below.
— Helen Young (@HelenYoung16) October 10, 2019
As for the logistics of implementing such a levy — which would replace the U.K. government’s existing air travel tax — the report says the government should create a database of passport numbers that would be linked to airline reservations systems, keeping a record of an individual’s flight activity in miles over a three- or four-year period and including data on class of travel.
The study also encourages “a ban on air miles and frequent flyer loyalty schemes that incentivize excessive flying.” It specifically mentions so-called “mileage runs” that some flyers take for no other purpose than to top off their accounts for elite status qualification. (Mileage runs won’t work on United after next year…more on that here.)
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And it recommends that airlines should be required to list emissions data for each flight just as many restaurants now provide nutrition information on their menus.
Carmichael’s report suggests that the proposed air miles levy should include “a separate scheme” for business travelers, who account for 19 percent of U.K. flights, “in order to avoid loopholes or gaming the system,” and because more than one-third of business travelers fly in premium cabins, vs. only one in 17 leisure travelers, ”and these classes of tickets are associated with much higher emissions due to the larger space taken up onboard and more unfilled seats.”
Business travel by air could also be reduced, the report says, if the government provided matching funds to businessES that install videoconferencing or tele-presence suites in their offices, making it possible for employees to meet with their counterparts in other locations without traveling.
Would you be willing to cut back on your frequent flying to help the planet? Sound off in THE COMMENTS.
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Chris McGinnis is the founder of TravelSkills.com. The author is solely responsible for the content above, and it is used here by permission. You can reach Chris at email@example.com or on Twitter @cjmcginnis.