The UK Cut Taxes on Domestic Flights Just Before Hosting a Major Climate Summit

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced cuts on domestic flights duty despite the UK hosting the COP26 summit in just a few days' time.
October 27, 2021, 4:09pm
UK Chancellor Rishi Sunk and a domestic flight taking off from London City Airport. Photos: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images /  Nick Ansell/PA Images via Getty Images

The UK will cut taxes on domestic flights in the same week it is due to host a major climate conference hoping to stave off the destruction of the planet from climate change. 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak told Parliament on Wednesday he would halve air passenger duty for domestic flights, making it cheaper to use planes for travel within the UK, despite aviation being one of the most carbon-intensive forms of transport. 

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Sunak said 9 million passengers would see their duty cut by half, “bringing people together across the UK”, he said.

The announcement – part of the Budget, when the government sets out its financial plans for the year ahead – was met with immediate criticism on social media. It comes in the week the UK is hosting COP26, a global UN summit of world leaders hoping to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement and reduce global carbon emissions, which starts on Sunday.

Sunak said: “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. This will help cut the cost of living, with 9 million passengers seeing their duty cut by half. It will bring people together across the United Kingdom. And because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers, it is a boost to regional airports like Aberdeen, Belfast, Inverness and Southampton.”

According to a parliamentary research paper from this year, “In 2019, domestic and international aviation accounted for around 8 percent of UK CO2 equivalent transport emissions.” It predicts that by 2050, “aviation could well be the largest contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions.”

It won’t be the only green tax that Sunak will be cutting – fuel duty will also be frozen, making it cheaper to travel by car or van. 

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Sunak also announced a new levy on “ultra-longhaul” flights of over 5,500 miles. “Most emissions come from international rather than domestic aviation,” he said, “so we’re introducing from April 2023 a new ultra-longhaul band in air passenger duty covering flights of over 5,500 miles with an economy rate of £91. Less than 5 percent of passengers will pay more but those who fly furthest will pay the most.”

This year, the world saw extreme weather events across the globe killing and displacing thousands. As a result of climate change this year, wildfires raged across Greece, floods ravaged the northwest of England and many lost their lives in hurricanes in the US.

Cuts to taxes on domestic flights is the latest environmental controversy in the UK, as it gears up to host the COP26 summit.

The government has been pressured into imposing a duty on water companies to reduce the impact of sewage discharging into rivers and the sea. Boris Johnson had been accused of hypocrisy for hosting an environment conference while failing to protect the UK’s rivers, over half of which are polluted by sewage dumped in them by water companies.

And a trade union leader has claimed that Glasgow, where COP26 will be held, is being overrun with 1.3 million rats. Cleansing workers in the city are set to go on strike next month and say that cuts to refuse collections are effecting environmental health.