There have been reports of the government considering cutting air passenger duty in the wake of the Flybe bailout. Air passenger duty (APD) is not a carbon tax as such, since it’s not levied on the aircraft fuel burnt but rather on each passenger on a flight departing from a UK airport, except for flights from Northern Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.

The rate you pay depends on the class of travel and then there are two different rates, one for flights under 2000 miles and another for longer flights.

So even though APD is not a carbon tax, since air travel results in high emissions APD can function in a similar way, acting as a disincentive to fly and therefore an incentive to use another form of travel, such as the train, with lower emissions, or to not make the journey at all.

According to Fairosene, a campaign group lobbying for an aviation fuel tax in the EU, intra-EU aviation emissions have increased by over 26% in the past five years, and there is no aircraft fuel tax in the EU and VAT is not applied on international flights. This failure to tax the fuel means the costs of the damage done by burning that fuel (made greater due to the fuel being burnt high in the atmosphere) are passed onto society as a whole. We’re effectively subsidising those who choose to fly.

Air passenger duty is a somewhat messy and awkward attempt to counter that subsidy. In a climate emergency the last thing we should be doing is subsidising highly polluting activities, and yet a cut to APD would mean we’d be subsidising flying even more than we are at present.

As people become more aware of the seriousness of climate change we’d expect individuals and businesses to avoid flying if at all possible. Some businesses have set up their own internal carbon pricing schemes, where if an employee needs to travel somewhere, their expenses claim will include not just the cost of the trip but also the emissions, with the emissions being treated as a cost, as if there were a price on carbon.

And many of us, when we make buying decisions, are applying a similar logic, acting as if there were a higher price on carbon emissions than is actually the case by choosing a low emissions / high price option over a cheaper high emissions option. But many can’t afford to do that and are just left wishing that the most environmentally friendly option was also the cheapest option.

According to research carried out by The Times

Almost two thirds of long-distance journeys in Britain are cheaper by plane than train, forcing travellers to prioritise either environmental or cost concerns

A steadily increasing carbon tax, applying to all carbon emissions, including those from flying, is what Citizens’ Climate Lobby is lobbying for, with all the revenue of that tax paid back to citizens in equal dividends. That way, the cheapest option would generally be the most environmentally friendly option and people and businesses wouldn’t be put in the position of having to decide between what’s best for their bank balance and what’s best for the environment.