Passengers face 'green tax' on airline fuel

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The Independent Online

Britain took the first step on the road to taxing air travel for its contribution to global warming yesterday when the Treasury published a document discussing the idea.

Britain took the first step on the road to taxing air travel for its contribution to global warming yesterday when the Treasury published a document discussing the idea.

Although such a tax, which would mean a big rise in ticket prices and would hit low-cost airlines severely, is a long way off, the Government's decision to begin talking about it is significant.

The move is in response to one of the biggest complaints of environmental scientists and campaigners – that governments across the world refrain from taxing aviation fuel, yet aircraft exhaust emissions are contributing more and more to the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from aircraft are not covered by the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty governing efforts to fight climate change.

The document, Aviation and the Environment: Using Economic Instruments, published jointly with the Department for Transport, recognises that air transport has real environmental costs.

Greenhouse gases from British airlines cost the country £1.4bn in 2000, which will rise to £4.8bn by 2030. UK civil passenger aviation produced 30 million tonnes, or 5 per cent, of Britain's carbon dioxide in the year 2000. By 2020 this will have gone up to 55 million tonnes, or between 10 and 12 per cent.

The document invites opinions on how economic measures – such as taxes, trading permits, auctions of landing slots and government grants – could be used to encourage the industry to take more account of its environmental impact.

The Treasury stressed it was purely a "discussion document". A spokesman said: "We come with a totally open mind. There are no pre-conditions."

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said: "This represents what is potentially a hugely significant change, and could be the first step to taxing aviation fuel, which is long overdue. Frankly, airliner tickets are too cheap."

The responses will feed into the Air Transport White Paper, due later this year, which is to set out a "sustainable" aviation policy for the next 30 years. The Government has made proposals for increasing airport capacity in the South-east that have attracted criticism from environmentalists.

"The Government should have looked at how to make the air industry pay for some of the enormous environmental damage it causes before it began its consultation on building new airports," Paul De Zylva of Friends of the Earth said.

The aviation industry said higher taxes could harm the economy if they led to higher travel costs and a fall in demand. The Freedom to Fly Coalition, representing airlines, airports and trade unions, said £1bn of environment costs were already taxed via air passenger duty.

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