In the 1940’s international transport was still dominated by coal-burning steam trains and oil-burning ocean liners. Air travel was still in its infancy, so to promote it, tax on aviation fuel was deemed exempt through the International Convention on Civil Aviation (ICAO, Chicago, 1944, Article 24). Now, over 70 years later, when air travel is the dominant form of international and domestic travel, this exemption is patently not needed but is, unfortunately, still in place, with countries like Australia and the US opposed to a world-wide levy. The EU has stated that tax on aviation kerosene (Avtur) ‘needs to be explored’, while, debating this issue, the UK Parliament estimated that tax from this source would be around a staggering £10 billion, but anticipated huge opposition in implementing it. Aviation is responsible for 2-3% of all carbon emissions, and is growing, but is excluded from the Paris Agreement (too much of a thorny issue?). If, say the EU implemented an avgas tax, airlines would fill up outside the EU (‘tanking’) making aircraft heavier and thus increasing emissions. Some countries do tax kerosene for domestic flights only, such as the Netherlands (200 Euros/1000 litres), Japan (239 Euros/1000 litres) and the US (6 Euros/1000 litres, Federal tax; and up to 24 Euros/1000 litres State tax). The UN recently brokered a scheme to cap aviation emissions in 2020, but this was regarded as a cop-out as it still allows airlines to carry on emitting carbon, as long as they offset it.
This international avgas inertia was jolted last year when Sweden introduced a tax on aviation and spawned a ‘Stay on the Ground’ campaign with 10000 members committed to not flying this year. Even ardent greenies, however, are unlikely to follow suit, but will, at most, modify their conscience by offsetting their carbon miles. Possible long-term solutions to the aviation pollution problem unclude hybrid electric planes (battery planes, as featured, already being trialed between some Shetland islands; mixing avgas with biofuels – not a good idea as it leads to rainforest destruction for cheap imported palm oil) and carbon offsets, whose funds are then used for renewable projects like wind farms, hydro-electricity and reforestation.
We should be flying less, offsetting out carbon miles if you have to fly, and supporting green sky thinking. Our government should look to Sweden, apply avgas tax (imagine what we could do with £10 billion?) and consider not expanding air travel (Heathrow 3 and Edinburgh 2?). Plan your next holiday for the Hebrides (best beaches in Europe), not the Canaries or the Algarve!