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Aviation and the pollution

THE SILENT SUBJECT ABOUT THE SUBSIDIZING AND POLUTION OF AVIATION!

And how offsetting it.

WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

  1. THE ANNUAL EMISSION OF CO2 FROM AVIATION HAS REACHED 1 BILLION TONS 2017 UP FROM 150 MILLION TONS IN 1996.
  2. ZERO VAT IN EU ON INTERNATIONAL AIRFARES IS A DIRECT SUBSIDY BECAUSE OF THE MILLIONS OF € IN RETURNED VAT FROM BUYING VARIOUS SERVICES AND PRODUCTS.

Some background information on the first claim.

There is an ongoing discussion about the how much pollution aviation accounts for. In general, CO2 is recognized, but many others: nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide (together termed NOx), water vapor, particulates, sulfur oxides, and carbon monoxide (which bonds with oxygen to become CO2 immediately upon release) is included in the emissions. Aviation accounts for 2% of the total global CO2 emission, but since most pollution happens at 10 km altitude, scientists claim it is necessary to multiply the direct emission number by a factor 2 and thus making it 4%.

The numbers are frightening:

IATA reports that the CO2 emission in 2017 will amount to 853 million tons. This is only for members of the cartel. You need to add low cost airlines, charter, freight, small aircrafts. This means including the multiplying factor the emissions come to more than 1.000.000.000 tons of CO2 in 2017. Add to this dangerous Chemical Substances being part of the exhaust and the force factor already mentioned.

Overall, the latest scientific estimates put the climate forcing impact of global aviation at 4.9% of total climate forcing while its contribution to global GDP is 0.7%. This makes aviation seven times more climate polluting than average economic activities. 

These emissions from a liter of jet fuel are similar to a four-seat car with one person on board, however, flying trips often cover much longer distances than would be undertaken by car, so the total emissions are much higher. For perspective, per passenger a typical economy-class New York to Los Angeles round trip produces about 715 kg of CO2 (but is equivalent to 1,917 kg) of CO2 when the high altitude "climatic forcing" effect is taken into account).

c of transport is about the time used to reach your destination. Average flying time is around 2,5 hours. This means that up to 4% of annual global pollution are generated by 0,0165% of the annual time available to the world population. This means that few are responsible for creating pollution influencing everyone on the planet.

Just the impact from airports does influence the neighbors seriously. Watch this movie to get an idea about how much pollution you generate when travelling HERE. Remember that at the same time transport by air is growing annually between 5-10%.

Some background information on the second claim.

There is no VAT or tax on any aspect of International air travel, not on airline tickets, nor on purchase of aircraft, nor on their servicing, nor on their fuel, nor on air traffic control, nor on baggage handling, nor on aircraft meals. Everything to do with air travel after passport control is zero rated. All EU countries zero-rate VAT for intra-EU and international flight tickets.

However, aviation, like all other companies involved in the supply chain whose output is subject to VAT, can reclaim the input VAT paid on goods and services they purchase to carry out their business. This would not be the case if air and sea tickets were simply exempt from VAT. There are some countries claiming VAT and taxes on domestic aviation, but most countries are doing nothing. The main issue seen from CO2 point of view is that the income just goes into big coffer and a specific fund designed for offsetting emissions.

The VAT zero rating of aviation is an effective subsidy to passengers and to airlines which induces an artificial demand for air travel, which in turn aggravates the growing problem of aviation’s impact on the climate.

On Pollution: Where are we from a public point of view?

Just looking into the Internet shows how little this subject has been mentioned during the last decades. The globalization, arrival of Low Cost Carriers and recent years cheap jet fuel has worsened this situation.

In 2008 EU agreed on using the existing emission trading system if airlines exceeded certain threshold. The airlines promised to deliver exact numbers. This actually did happen and 2016 was the year where the deal was to be reviewed. The emission system was only available in EU. US and other countries tried various idea, but the airlines fought back.

Finally, At the 2016 ICAO (UN) Assembly, a program named CORSIA (DETAILS) was brought forward. The core content was establishing an emission offsetting scheme forcing airlines to buy CO2 quotas when trespassing certain thresholds. In the agreement is a schedule that allows time to implement these systems and reporting structures. The system will require airlines to monitor and report their annual CO2 emissions on international routes and offset those exceeding 2020 levels. The deal is expected to be active from 2021 but is voluntary until 2026. The timelines are 2021-2023, 2024-2027 and the mandatory implementation 2027-2035 The agreement is already signed by 66 out of 191 countries but is far too weak.

Though the agreement may have its flaws, it is worth considering what the world
might look like without it. If nothing is done to curb aviation emissions, all other
things being equal, by 2050 aviation emissions are expected to triple, accounting for 27 percent of the global carbo
n budget if we are to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping temperature increase below 1.5 C. This would require every other sector to rein in its emissions to the point of absurdity, just in order to accommodate for aviation’s growth.

The EU Commission and parliament has recently agreed to enter the ICAO
agreement (CORSIA) and is looking to put on hold the current geographic scope of the EU Emissions Trading System for aviation, covering flights between airports in
the European Economic Area. This will ensure a level playing field and equal treatment of all airlines flying in Europe.


Everybody or institution looking at or being involved in the industry claim to be working to create a CO2 neutral environment. From airports and airlines to aircraft and engine manufactures we have heard them all pledge to decrease the emissions including introducing bio fuel, electric cars at the airport, lighter planes and more efficient engines. However, we still have thousands of aircraft flying every day that were build 20-30 years ago.

The weakness of the structure is the simple fact that the CO2 emissions and other pollution will be “free” for an almost infinitive time. The global population of 7,5 billion people, feeling the changing weather impact made from 3,5 billion passengers actually travelling by air and of which many are frequent travelers, should not be penalized.

On top of this we already have seen trading emissions have had questions asked about the true value and documenting if the emissions really are being offset. What is even worse is the fact this trading structure is invisible to the consumer and travelers.

The fact is that 1 billion tons of CO2 is entering the air in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and perhaps until 2027 and not a lot if anything is being offset. It cannot go on.

On subsidizing direct or indirect? Where are we from a public point of view?

The exemptions have their origins in the early days of air transport when it was believed there were societal benefits in promoting the recovery and growth of international aviation after WWII. There was also a belief that the Chicago Convention (agreed upon 1946) provided international tax exemptions to aviation. Neither of these considerations is true or justified today, if indeed they were ever true or justified.

Most countries follow the recommendation by the Council of the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), that fuel used for international aviation should be tax-exempt.  The recommendation does not preclude “charges” for environmental purposes.  Some airports have landing fees related to aircraft noise levels, and various countries have considered or introduced more general environmental charges which could extend to cover aircraft greenhouse gas emissions.  Aviation fuel taxation is also precluded in most countries by provisions in the bilateral Air Transport Agreements, which are the main legal frameworks for the operation of international civil aviation.

The world need funds to build CO2 offsetting project and it is not fair that the world population support the upper and middle class’s trips financially, and at the same time be victims of increasing violent weather, more draught and increasing sea levels due to the CO2 emissions created by the same trips.

Next step

Something needs to be done; Lower the emission from aviation and finance projects offsetting the pollution.

Aviation has changed the way we see the world. It has helped the globalization of trade and manufacturing, brought tourist to developing countries and transported workers from home country to workplace. We do not believe in Aviation to stop, but wish to treat it like any other industry and CO2 polluter. Many airlines have unsuccessfully tried to offer voluntary CO2 programs, and many companies are registering their pollution footprint. A few even participate in offsetting programs.

However, it is a public responsibility to find a solution and the only way forward is adding a passenger levy on all air traffic or introduce a jet fuel tax. The proposed structure with a global quota structure to offset future increased emissions is simply not enough. The world cannot live waiting until 2021 to act. Experience already have shown that the airlines lobby work has delayed any development for the next 9 years. How can we be sure no further delays will happen?

Introducing a jet fuel tax

Many commentators have argued that NOT having a tax like the one on fuel in general is an indefensible anomaly, given that aviation accounts for a growing share of greenhouse gas emissions.  However, there are several obstacles to taxing aviation fuel.  First, it is probable that unilateral moves by individual countries to impose duty on this category of fuel would be counterproductive, and contrary to regional law.  Second, it is likely that even a regional wide agreement on taxing this fuel would have a limited effect.  Imposing duty on all flights - not just ‘domestic’ ones within the EU, China or US would pose the threat of “tankering”: carriers filling their aircraft as full as possible whenever they landed outside these regions to avoid paying tax, increasing the level of aviation emissions.

Introducing a passenger or aircraft levy

A levy is the fastest way forward. It can be introduced by local governments and is to be paid at departure country via the ticket and starting NOW. Governments can force a levy through the airport structure and decide if it is based on individual passengers or per aircraft departing. It will force the airlines to raise the ticket price, but an OECD report shows that a 5% increase in airfares only reduce traffic by 0,6%.

If the world was to use the California levy of around 12$ per ton of CO2 the income from a levy would bring in 12 billion $ to be used to offset the pollution. The levy per single transaction would be 6$.

This is a government and public responsibility and it is logic that those to pay are the people and freight forwarder using aviation and causing the pollution

It is not a tax, but a collection of funds to be invested in CO2 offsetting projects. It should be the individual country charging and administrating this levy because of the individual GDP and pollution generated in each country. The selection of projects could also be locally or global. This article explains some of the issues facing CO2 offsetting projects HERE.

For example, EU could claim 10% VAT on aviation within its borders, including domestic traffic. All the income could be given to a fund with its purpose to finance projects or invest in alternative type of environmental friendly transport types i.e. highspeed train. The fund should be managed by people experienced in creating and manage pollution offsetting projects.

Looking at the possibilities we should take following items into account:

  1. Whether a new og old plane
  2. The size and design of the plane
  3. The fuel efficiency of the engines
  4. If fuel usage is lower because of better handling
  5. The distance.
  6. Cabin classes.

The levy should reflect both the CO2 emissions created, the altitude factor and other chemical substances sent into the air. I am aware people like The CEO of Norwegian Bjørn Skoos already support some form of levy reflecting new versus old airplanes.

There are following reasons:

  • It creates awareness of the pollution
  • Only those traveling is paying and not the global population
  • It is visible
  • The country population can be informed where their money is going
  • Companies can document their CO2 footstep

I believe companies, passengers and the airline industry initially will cry wolf and tell how bad this will be for businesses and the travel industry. However, the last years catastrophic weather with increased draught, bigger storms and flooding must have an impact.

Any responsible government should start immediately creating the fund, calculate the levy and act. Better sooner than later.

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