A range of voices are calling for an end to hazardous aviation growth. Find a collection of policy papers supporting degrowth of aviation below.

Reality Check: Why politicians should reject the third runway

(Sally Cairns and Carey Newson, Transport for Quality of Life, Radical Transport Policy Two-Pager #2, April 2018)

Topic: Heathrow’s third runway
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Pages: 2

Link: http://www.transportforqualityoflife.com/radicaltransportpolicytwopagers/

The optimistic environmental and financial forecasts for the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport (UK), put forward by the proponents of the expansion, should become true before the project is given the green light. For instance, a 2017 report by the Department for Transport estimated that, in some scenarios, the enterprise would be loss-making. The new runway will affect negatively the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people living close to the airport and could mean the UK does not reach its climate change commitments.


Curbing aviation with a Frequent Flyer Levy and aviation fuel duty – a fair tax package

(Lisa Hopkinson with Sally Cairns, Lynn Sloman, Carey Newson and Beth Hiblin, Transport for Quality of Life, Radical Transport Policy Two-Pager #5, January 2019)

Topic: Frequent flyer levy; aviation fuel duty
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Pages: 2

Link: http://www.transportforqualityoflife.com/radicaltransportpolicytwopagers/

To make sure the UK meets its climate targets efficiently and equitably, unfair aviation subsidies should be removed, airport expansion should be stopped and a fair tax package comprised of a frequent flyer levy and aviation fuel duty should be introduced, benefiting the public purse and the majority of people.

More in depth

  • Aviation tax breaks are unfair as they serve rich citizens: in the UK, 70% of flights are taken by 15% of the population, and more than half of the country never flies yet may well be the recipient of aviation noise or air pollution. In particular, flights are exempt from VAT and there is no duty levied on aviation fuel, costing the government over £10 billion per year. The existing Air Passenger Duty (ADP), which generates £3 billion a year, does not compensate for this loss of revenue and is levied at too low a rate to curb demand for flying.
  • These subsidies stimulate demand for one of the most damaging forms of transport in terms of climate impact. In order to adhere to the Paris Agreement, deeper and faster carbon cuts will have to be made; since the government is still planning to allow international aviation emissions to more than double compared to 1990, other sectors will be penalised unfairly, bearing the brunt of emissions reduction. In addition, aviation causes a range of ‘non-carbon’ impacts at altitude which, though still uncertain, could possibly double the climate change impact or worse.
  • Despite being already behind the legally binding 2050 climate targets, the government is unwisely planning to expand airport capacity and encouraging people to take more flights.
  • The government relies on the measure proposed by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), which is woefully inadequate and based on a discredited offsetting scheme failing to deliver carbon reductions. The UK needs to take responsibility for its share of emissions: since a greater uptake of alternative fuels and efficiency improvements are essential but insufficient, it should constrain demand for flying through fiscal measures.
  • ADP should be increased or replaced with more effective, politically deliverable and progressive forms of tax, such as a frequent flyer levy (the levy would be zero for the first return flight and increase progressively for each subsequent flight in each year).
  • A simple and effective policy, already helping to reduce CO2 emissions in half a dozen countries, would be to introduce a fuel tax for domestic flights. Moreover, it would be even better to institute an aviation fuel tax for all flights within Europe, which is strongly backed by eminent economists.
  • The additional tax revenue could be used to improve sustainable travel to outlying regions and rural areas, and promote local tourism.


Public attitudes to tackling aviation’s climate change impacts

(10:10 Climate Action, January 2019)

Topic: Public opinion
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Pages: 3

Link: https://1010uk.org/flying


  • Most people don’t think the government is doing enough to tackle environmental damage caused by air travel.
  • Half of us say we would be willing to reduce the amount we fly to protect the environment – but nearly a third would not.
  • Frequent flyers are much less willing to reduce the amount they fly than others.
  • Those who are concerned about climate change are more supportive of reducing air travel, both at a personal and a policy level.
  • A large majority of people are unaware of how damaging air travel is for climate change – but those who are aware are much more supportive of reducing air travel.
  • Most people believe a frequent flyer levy would be a fair way to tackle environmental damage from air travel.
  • A frequent flyer levy is preferred over other policy options by a large margin.

More in depth
In the UK, the number of people flying and aviation emissions have kept growing in recent years; the nation as a whole flies more than almost any other country. Globally, it is expected that passenger numbers will double over the next twenty years. As no credible assessments show that technological and operational improvements will keep aircraft pollution within safe limits, brave policies are necessary to manage passenger demand below its unconstrained level. Measures such as ticket taxes are politically challenging since it takes large increases in ticket prices to bring about small decreases in demand for flights. Furthermore, in order to be successful these policies must be fair: the poor should not be priced out of the skies altogether, thus a blank/flat tax is not an option. In the UK, 70% of all flights are taken by just 15% of the population (the frequent flyers), half of the residents do not fly and most of the rest take one or two flights a year. Replacing the existing Air Passenger Duty (APD) with a Frequent Flyer Levy (FFL), that would allow all passengers at UK airports one tax-free flight a year (with a rising levy on each additional flight thereafter), is a smart, fair and politically deliverable way to help the UK meet its climate goals. However, the government is only considering a commitment to negotiate a better global carbon offsetting scheme and, worse still, is currently developing an aviation strategy that deliberately seeks to cater to all increases in demand for flights, envisaging large increases in new runways and terminals across the country.

These are the key findings of the November 2018 poll of 1,750 British adults:

  • 43% want the government to do more about aviation emissions, 29% don’t know and 28% say the government is doing enough.
  • Around half state they would be willing to reduce the amount they fly in order to protect the environment, against around 30% who would be unwilling to do so. Moreover, the data shows the more concerned the general population is about climate change, the more willing they may be to accept policies to curtail demand, and those who report having taken seven or more flights are the least willing to reduce the number of flights they take.
  • There is a widespread lack of awareness about the level of damage air travel inflicts on the climate: when asked to select one or two actions from a list that would have the biggest impact on reducing an individual’s carbon footprint, only 15% correctly identified taking one fewer transatlantic flight, whereas 37% correctly identified ‘going car free’ as effective. The results show that support for policies to tackle the climate change impacts of air travel was much higher amongst people who were aware of the relatively extreme damage flights do to the environment, suggesting that awareness raising could be important to getting the public behind such policies.
  • 36% selected a FFL to replace APD from a list of potential approaches to tackling the environmental impacts of air travel, 23% were unsure and the remaining options (in order of importance: none of these, aviation fuel tax, limit of number of fights at UK airports and VAT) got 20% support or less. Respondents were asked to select up to two options.
  • 56% also agreed that a FFL would be fair, while only 26% felt it would be unfair. This is an important finding as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that perceived fairness is the most important factor for securing public support for policies to tackle climate change.
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