Can an aviation tax help combat climate change? 9 European countries want to try

With sustainability and environmental concerns a larger part of the global conversation than ever before, nine European countries are calling for an aviation tax to counteract the negative impact of flying. 

closeup of a plane wing over the ocean with land in the distance
If the EU fails to implement a Europe-wide aviation tax by the end of 2020, the Netherlands will introduce its own © MirageC / Getty Images

On Thursday, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, and Bulgaria released a joint statement requesting that the European Commission take steps to adjust the price of plane tickets to compensate for the damage – and if an EU agreement can’t be reached by the end of 2020, the Netherlands stands prepared to impose a flight tax of its own. 

As of now, the Dutch government says, international air traffic isn’t subject to excise duty or VAT, but the industry is responsible for some 2.5% of global CO2 emissions – one of the world’s biggest offenders. On top of that, the greenhouse gases that result from commercial flights are increasing even more rapidly than initially expected, up to a whopping 70% faster, according to one recent study

Silhouette of a plane in the air at sunset
Nine countries are pressing the European Commission for an aviation tax to compensate for the environmental damage inflicted by air travel © D-Stocker / Shutterstock

“It’s not just the Netherlands, but a large group of European countries that think it’s unacceptable that air travel is not taxed at all, unlike travel by car, bus, and train,” State Secretary for Finance Menno Snel said in a press release. “By taking action now, we hope this important issue will take off in Europe too.”

Indeed, research indicates that passengers are willing and able to pay a bit more for flights with carbon fees attached – as long as said fee is labeled as a “carbon offset for aviation fuel production and import” and not a “carbon tax for airplane travel.” According to study co-author David Hardisty, that’s because “taxes feel like you’re charging people money for nothing, whereas an offset is the idea that, ‘Sure we’re paying, but we kind of have an idea where that payment is going, to make the environment better,’ which is what people want.”

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