green taxes

Don't believe airline whinging over air passenger duty


Has any industry claimed to care more for their customers than the airlines? The past few weeks have seen pundits from any company with the slightest interest in aviation fronting up at the BBC's studios to defend hard working families from proposed rises in air passenger duty. Those rises are: a staggering £1 extra for short haul, £5 extra to fly a little further, £10 extra on a flight to Thailand or Brazil and a whopping... £15 on a flight to Singapore.

Now far be it from me to say that those rises hardly break the bank, or to accuse the airlines from being self-interested: I'm sure that their efforts to pay even less tax than they already do are motivated purely by altruism. After all, it's not like this is an industry which invented charges for bringing bags with you on holiday, or for paying with a credit card, or for not paying with a credit card, or for the fuel used in the plane, or to sit by the window... I could go on, but I'm sure you get my point.

The industry claims it already covers the cost of its environmental impact, so the 'hard working family holiday tax' doesn't need to go up anymore. This is one of the problems with monetising things like climate change: while you can work out the cost of a something tangible, asigning a figure to the range of outcomes from a human-induced temperature rise (which may or may not happen, depending on whether we stop climate change) is almost impossible.

This is all a bit complex. Firstly the cost of climate change is directly related to whether we manage to keep our emissions in check. If we do, then the cost of a tonne of carbon is quite low; if we fail then the cost is exorbitant. That's the problem: if carbon is cheap we'll keep emitting it but if it's expensive then we'll cut down, so whatever outcome we think will happen prices carbon emissions so that we actually get the opposite effect. Instead of assuming we'll stop climate change we should assume that we won't and price emissions accordingly; this would make the cost of CO2 high enough that we'd have an incentive to change our behaviour and thus avert disaster.

It's not like air passenger duty is spent tackling the problem; like most taxes it disappears into the black morass of Government spending. No matter what it says, the industry is not paying for the damage it causes: it's not like Michael O'Leary will turn up in Gloucester to pay for the flood damage, or Willie Walsh will help Africa cope with drought caused by second home owners topping up their tans too frequently.

Luckily this whole economic credit crunch means that taxes on flights will keep rising so we can bail out more and more bankers, so the industry won't get its way no matter how many minor celebs it wheels out in support. On second thoughts, I'm not so sure that's a good thing. God, the intricacies of fiscal policy are more complicated than I first though...

Support for taxes on flights keeps growing

Air ship

It finally seems like we might just be getting through to people - maybe even the hard-working British families the aviation industry likes to blame for their plans to turn Britain into Airstrip One. According to the 25th British Social Attitudes Report, 70% of Brits now agree "that air travel has a serious effect on climate change." This may not strike readers of our website as an especially mind-blowing revelation - but it's worth remembering that only 83% of Brits currently agree that bears shit in the woods.

Of perhaps greater significance is the news that "The proportion who agree that people should be able to travel by plane 'as much as they like' is 63%, down from 78% in 2003. When asked the same question but with the extra words 'even if it harms the environment', agreement falls from 63% to 19%."

Continental air tax dodge: fat chance!


Some PR boffin at Airlines PLC has been working their socks off, persuading everyone that the government's planned reforms to Air Passenger Duty are going to increase carbon emissions by encouraging people to fly further. The new taxes, which scale according to the type of aircraft (penalising old, dirty planes) are charged according to how far you fly.

The airlines think this is the begining of the end, and have been crying to the papers all week about how dreadful the new taxes will be. Their latest wheeze takes the biscuit: they claim that people wanting to fly long-haul will book a short-haul flight to Europe, paying the short-haul tax rate, and then change for a long-haul flight in Schipol or Charles de Gaulle, avoiding the greater long-haul tax. According to Saturday's Times, a family could save up to £200 through this loophole.

Like so much of the airlines' spin, this is clearly nonsense. Flying with a family is one of the most unpleasant experiences known to man, and the idea that people will voluntarily extend the misery by breaking their journey - increasing the length of time standing in Duty Free being pestered by their kids and increasing the likelihood of baggage getting lost - is laughable. Anyone mad enough to try this will end up getting the cold shoulder all holiday from their exhausted partner who can't believe they spent three hours stuck at Frankfurt airport to save a miserable £200 on a holiday costing the better part of a couple of grand. Good luck to them, say I.

Non-doms get frequent flyer bonus


The 2008 Budget will be remembered not for a bang, but for a whimper. But behind the tinkering and the lack of clear vision had lain a glimer of hope for the planet. Darling was to have closed a loophole which actively encourage frequent flying by the much-hated and tax-evading non-doms. At the last minute he faltered, and left it in.

Residents of Monaco and other tax dodge hangouts are able to claim non-dom status if they spent no more than 90 days in the UK each year - but can discount "travel days" from the total. The uber-rich jet in on Monday, fly off on Wednesday and claim they've only worked one day in the UK. Unsuprisingly it's often cheaper to grab an unnecessary short-haul (or more often, private) flight to nowhere in particular than break the 90 day rule and have to shell out some tax for a change.

2008 Budget: pathetically inadequate


Darling budget

We were told it would be a the greenest budget ever, but nothing could be further from the truth. Out went the 2p rise in fuel duty, to appease the vocal minority who drive regularly (just under three-quarters of adults may own a driver's license, but a great many, like me, rarely use it). More importantly, Darling stayed true to Labour's obsession with airport expansion, backing unsustainable growth at Stansted and Heathrow.

Behind the spin, the Chancellor didn’t say much about aviation, even failing to get his own government’s statistics right. "Aviation accounts for 6.3 per cent of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions." Not technically wrong Darling, but aviation accounts for 13% of the UK's climate impact, because of all the other gases and the height at which they are emitted. Ignoring radiative forcing gives the industry a free ride - not a promising start for someone who is meant to be half-decent at numbers. So what else did he have to say?

"We are not impressed"


Not us talking, but the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, in a report published today which roasts the government's record on a host of green issues. What they are so particularly unimpressed by in the above quote is the Treasury's half-baked explanation for their refusal to even work out how much the VAT tax rebate to aviation is actually worth each year.

Since its inception in 1997, with a mandate to keep a watch on the Treasury's progress towards keeping its promises on climate change and the environment, the EAC has been an annoying voice of reason within the House of Commons. Why can't they ever say anything nice? Oh wait, no I get it. Today's report has plenty of interesting criticisms to make of the Treasury's many diverse and abject failings with regards to climate change, but the Committee seems especially underwhelmed by this government's approach to the problem posed by aviation emissions. As they've been saying for years now, "Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, its contribution to global warming is enhanced through releasing emissions at altitude, its growth is being fuelled by largely inessential journeys (especially short-haul journeys, where there are rail alternatives), and it is very lightly taxed (notably aviation fuel is untaxed internationally)."

Airlines vow to fight emissions trading scheme

Less light more planes

It had to happen. After months of pleading to be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), major international carriers have declared that they will fight any European plan to make them take account of their spiralling emissions.

Just days after the EU fought tooth and claw to undermine the ETS, the International Air Travel Association (IATA) has laid down the gauntlet, promising to throw its toys out of the pram if MEPs don't stop trying to avert climate change.

A loophole big enough to fly a jumbo jet through

As you're probably aware, Labour is deadly serious about climate change. They're seriously thinking about possibly making a start.

Their latest attempt comes in the form of the Climate Bill, a serious piece of legislation which will set a series of legally binding carbon budget periods lasting five years each. Unfortunately the draft target for 2050 is inadequate: a 60% reduction on 1990 levels, and more pertinently, the bill excludes Aviation - the fastest growing source of greenhouse gasses in the UK. The draft bill - before consultation - had a built-in loophole you could fly a jumbo through, and everyone knew it.

Tories abandon green proposals

Cameron and a hoody

Timed to perfection: on the day that a Mori poll showed widespread support for the Tories green agenda, Cameron is rumoured to have rejected key proposals from his Quality of Life commission.

In a move sure to win him the votes of precisely three people in Orpington, Dave is reported to have ditched Zac Goldsmith's much anticipated moratorium on runway expansion (49% support), VAT on flights (37% for, 34% against) and instead focused on a 'per plane' tax, as called for by eco-anarchists easyJet.

Looks like the climate has gone out the window. Not to worry - I'm sure that having less 'death tax' to pay will more than make up for there not being a planet left to inherit...

Public support for Quality of Life commission

A report by pollsters Ipsos-Mori confirms what environmentalists have been saying all along: high levels of popular support for the green agenda.

The report, Public finds much to support in Conservative's new Green Agenda, explored a number of potential Tory policies, and found widespread support for green taxation: 62% of people support the 'polluter pays' principle, while only 10% oppose it.