Let’s reduce demand for flying, not build climate-busting runways

24 October 2016

* Caroline Lucas tables Early Day Motion (1) 

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party Co-leader, is calling on the Government to introduce a ‘frequent flyer levy’ as an alternative to expanding airports in South East England. The proposal, which would allow people one tax free return flight per year and charge frequent flyers the most, aims to limit the growth in air transport in Britain.

At present just 15% of people take 70% of flights in the United Kingdom – with over half of people not flying each year. The frequent flyer levy aims to limit the environment impact of air travel, but not stop people from taking affordable family holidays.

Using accepted methods to calculate the effect of price on demand, experts say the number of flights taken by the better-off for leisure purposes – which account for much of recent growth – would be cut to a level that would make extra airport capacity unnecessary.

Caroline Lucas, whose party opposes expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports, said:

“The Government is on the brink of announcing climate-wrecking plans for airport expansion in South East England. We know that that laying more tarmac at either Heathrow or Gatwick will bust any hope we have of meeting our climate change commitments, and inflict noise and air pollution on already blighted local communities.

“Instead of expanding these airports the Government should introduce a frequent flyer levy to reduce the need for any new runway capacity and invest the money raised in further measures to offer climate-friendly alternatives to air travel. I urge Ministers to look at this proposal – and hope that opposition parties can join together in opposing airport expansion and backing this sensible alternative.”

Ahead of a likely announcement tomorrow Jonathan Bartley has criticised what he calls a ‘cross party consensus’ on airport expansion.

He said:

‘The Labour Party appears to have fallen into line with the Government on airport expansion. Despite longstanding opposition to such a move from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnnell it seems that the party may swing behind further expansion of the busiest airport in Europe.

“Such a cross party consensus on airport expansion is deeply disappointing. The fact is that expansion is incompatible with meeting our climate change commitments, and will bring further misery to the lives of those living near the runways. Instead of expanding airports we need to reduce demand for flying through a frequent flyer levy and by exploring ways to make travel by public transport more affordable.”

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said:

“The Gatwick or Heathrow dilemma is a false one. There's been a third choice all along, and a much better one. Instead of increasing airport capacity, the government should look at ways to curb demand. Aviation is one of the high-carbon industries where demand restraint is essential as the only practical means of controlling its spiralling emissions. Rather than making flying the preserve of the rich, a more equitable approach such as the Frequent Flyer Levy would do the job of controlling carbon and prevent the need for either Heathrow or Gatwick to build a new runway, whilst still allowing ordinary families a holiday abroad."

Friends of the Earth head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said:

“Expanding either airport will cause more noise, more air pollution and completely undermine UK government efforts to tackle climate change. Around 15% of the UK population take about 70% of all flights. The government should scrap airport expansion and tackle capacity issues by replacing Air Passenger Duty with a frequent flyer levy, which would leave most of us able to enjoy our annual holiday in the sun without paying through the nose.”

Leo Murray, Director of Strategy at 10:10, said:

"Air travel represents one of the most intractable problems for climate change policy. Technology improvements are expected to help, but cannot keep up with the pace of rising demand for flights - which is itself driven by lavish tax subsidies that keep flight costs artificially low. The global deal on aviation emissions that was recently struck is so weak that it will see aviation emissions triple or more to 2050, and its headline goals are not consistent with either the Paris Agreement or the UK's own Climate Change Act. 

"Because most plane journeys by UK residents are leisure flights taken by relatively wealthy frequent flyers, if we taxed air travel more fairly we would not need to build any new runways. For those who do not like this idea, we have to ask - what is your alternative plan to keep carbon emissions from air travel within safe limits?"

[1] EDM 572 https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2016-17/572 

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