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It's Time for a Frequent Flyer Tax

A frequent flyer tax is being touted as one of the air travel industry’s only solutions for meeting Europe's climate targets.

After France’s announcement that the country will stop all domestic flights that could be carried out by train in less than 2.5 hours, the pressure is on for other nations to reassess how they can curb rising demand for air travel.

If aviation were a country, it would be the world’s 7th worst polluter. But this statistic fails to acknowledge that multiple studies show the majority of flights are actually only undertaken by a small minority of frequent flyers.

Greenpeace has long-supported the implementation of a “frequent flyer levy” - a tax that seeks to weed out unnecessary travel undertaken by those that can afford it. If this policy took shape, it could halt the aviation industry from becoming the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions by 2050.

In Europe, the bulk of air travel is undertaken by as little as 2 percent of people in places like France, where half of the country do not fly regularly, if at all.

Global examples include:

  • UK: 15 percent of the population take 70 percent of flights

  • Canada: 22 percent of the population take 73 percent of flights

  • The Netherlands: 8 percent of people take 42 percent of flights

  • China: 5 percent of households take 40 percent of flights

  • India: 1 percent of households take 45 percent of flights

A frequent flyer tax would not target individual travellers and families that book foreign occasional trips. It would instead take the shape of a progressive tax that targets people in proportion to how much they fly domestically and abroad.

Taking the UK as an example, how would this pan out? Each year, every person would be given a tax-free return flight, with the tax kicking in at a low rate and rising in increments for every extra flight onwards.The money collected from this would then be put towards environmental initiatives to offset the impact of the remaining flights.

The UK is a worthwhile place to start in addressing the problem. Before lockdown, the number of flights between two of the UK’s largest cities, London and Manchester, stood at 12 a day. That's crazy as the same journey by train takes just 2 hours.

As COP26 looms, many people will be waiting to see if a frequent flyer levy is tabled as a way to meet the stricter, more ambitious climate targets announced by the UK and the European Commision over the past year.

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