Rishi Sunak has made it cheaper to fly between UK cities, slashing Air Passenger Duty the week before COP26.
Speaking in Wednesday’s Budget, the Chancellor said the planned cut would boost local airports – “and bring people together across the UK”.
Flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be subject to a new, lower rate of Air Passenger Duty – a move which Sunk said “will help with the cost of living, with nine million passengers seeing their duty cut by half”.
But, just this week, the Climate Change Committee advisory board warned the government was failing to reduce demand for flying as part of its strategy to reach net zero.
Sunak’s announcement angered environmentalists, with Green MP Caroline Lucas suggesting the Chancellor did not “get the memo on the climate emergency” – while Friends of the Earth branded the move “astonishing”.
It comes just days before world leaders descend on Glasgow for COP26, the highly-anticipated UN Climate Change conference.
‘Bring people together’
“Right now people pay more for return flights within and between the four nations of the United Kingdom than they do when flying home from abroad,” Sunak told MPs on Wednesday afternoon.
“We used to have a return leg exemption for domestic flights, but were required to remove it in 2001.
“But today, I can announce that flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will from April 2023 be subject to a new lower rate of Air Passenger Duty.”
He added: “It will bring people together across the United Kingdom, and because because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers it is a boost to regional airports like Aberdeen, Inverness and Southampton which are major regional employers.”
In a statement earlier this week, the Climate Change Committee – which advises ministers on meeting their climate targets, said: “The government does not include an explicit ambition on diet change, or reductions in the growth of aviation, and policies for managing travel demand have not been developed to match the funding that has been committed.
“These remain valuable options with major co-benefits and can help manage delivery risks around a techno-centric approach. They must be explored further with a view to early action.”
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, added: “Cutting Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights is an astonishing move that completely flies in the face of the climate emergency. The Chancellor should be making it cheaper for people to travel around the country by train, not carbon-guzzling planes.
“Air Passenger Duty for all flights should have been increased, or even better replaced with a frequent flyers levy, aimed at curbing multiple flights taken by a minority of people each year
“As the Prime Minister prepares to host next week’s crucial climate summit, this retrograde step is another illustration that the government’s carbon reduction plans don’t add up.”
‘Fossil fuel age extended’
Labour’s Rachel Reeves, responding to Sunak’s statement, said that Britain is “burdened with a Chancellor unwilling to meet the scale of the challenges we face” – and called the Budget a “shocking missed opportunity”.
“The Chancellor today has promoted domestic flights over high-speed rail in the week before COP26.
“It is because of this Chancellor that in this very week where we try to persuade other countries to reduce their emissions, this government can’t even confirm that it will meet its 2035 climate reduction target.”
Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission think-tank, said the Budget was an “own goal” for a government that “should be leading the world into a new low carbon age”.
He said: “Today the Chancellor declared the UK was entering an ‘age of optimism’ but instead he used the budget to extend the ages of fossil fuels.
“Cutting air passenger duty was the most significant new policy mentioned in the budget speech today which will have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions – and it will increase them. Rishi Sunak talked for longer about beer duty, than our duty to future generations to address the climate and nature crises.
“The truth is, this climate-void, fossil-fuel heavy budget failed to deliver the necessary £30 billion of investment needed each year to meet our climate and nature targets.
“Investing in a green economy would have been the fiscally responsible thing to do, avoiding the huge costs of inaction, and maximising the benefits and opportunities of the transition. Our research shows that 1.7 million jobs could be created by 2035 in sectors from transport to home retrofit and low carbon electricity.
“This budget was an own goal for a government that should be leading the world, ahead of the all-important global climate summit COP26, into a new low carbon age.”
Related: Elevenses: COP Out