Would You Pay a Tiny Flight Tax to Help Protect People from Climate Change?

photo airplane wing sky flying

Photo by Pranav Yaddanapudi.

Economists at the International Institute for Environment and Development say a "small tax" on international airline tickets could raise $10 billion (US) a year to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change. People like those in Southern Thailand, where major floods have killed more than 50 people and affected millions more. Having spent yesterday on a plane, I feel a need to expound on this one. Planes emit loads of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. Even though most passengers on commercial airlines are essentially carpooling it (like sardines), the pollution from airlines is something to be concerned about. And maybe that concern could be addressed with a so-called tiny tax. It would follow the "polluter pays" principle.

The IIED economists, Tom Birch and Muyeye Chambwera, estimate that the $10 billion a year could be generated by adding $6 to each economy-class ticket and $62 to each business class ticket. Birch and Chambwera say they think passengers would "barely notice" these added fees.

"C'mon," you might say, "I'm taxed enough." True. This would be a tax that probably makes more sense, however, than the other fees they tack on to air travel.

Flying may be necessary for business (but video conferencing is a good alternative). It's also the prime form of travel for Spring Breakers (not all college kids) who need a respite from snow and work (right here).

The tax proposal is made in a briefing paper published ahead of the latest round of intergovernmental climate negotiations in Bangkok, Thailand.

The money could go into an Adaptation Fund created during previous negotiations. The costs of adapting to climate change (shoreline protection, etc.) could reach $100 billion a year between now and 2050, according to some estimates cited by IIED.

You can download the briefing paper, "Fundraising flights: a levy on international air travel for adaptation," at the IIED website. Providing this money went to countries that needed it, and the fund was well-managed, would you be willing to pay this "tiny tax"? If it was coupled with additional measures to cut carbon pollution from air travel? But that could cost more.

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