Journalist | Special Reporter Qian Boyan from German Editor | 1
For more than half a year, a key word called Flygskam has been firmly at the top of the social media hot search list in Sweden, a rich Nordic country.
The key environmental factor is Greta Thunberg, who gave up less than two hours of direct sailing and chose to take a 32 hour train from Sweden to Switzerland. He refused to take a five hour flight across the Atlantic and chose to take a two week sailing to the United States.
With Greta’s slightly exaggerated interpretation, the civil aviation industry in Europe is rapidly changing from a former star industry to an underrepresented environmental killer, and Sweden’s civil aviation passenger transport growth has fallen to its lowest level in a decade.
Sweden’s civil aviation passenger flow is expected to show negative growth this year. Data source: European Commission
For a while, restraining the desire to travel and refusing to fly seems to be becoming a new fashion for the younger generation in Europe. Even when Katarina Schulze, the main environmental friendly German Green Party delegation, was drying out photos of American holidays in personal social media, Catalina Schulz was strongly questioned by environmentalists.
In fact, environmental Activists’doubts about the civil aviation industry are not without foundation.
Studies by the European Commission and several advisory bodies have shown that global air transport accounts for about 2.8 to 3 per cent of total human activity emissions. Behind this seemingly unsurpassed percentage lies a series of worrying facts.
If the global civil aviation industry is listed as a single country, it will become the tenth largest carbon emitter in the world. Unlike the entities with the constraints of the climate agreement and the commitment to energy conservation and energy transformation, the global civil aviation industry, which lacks unified policy, is still booming. According to the forecast of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), with the sustained development of the global economy, the global civil aviation industry’s carbon emissions will at least quadruple by 2050.
Specific conversion to a single passenger is only a round-trip trip between London and Hong Kong, which is equivalent to all emissions generated by a one bedroom household for one year’s heating.
Comparing the carbon emissions per passenger per kilometer, air travel is actually not environmentally friendly. Source: BBC
Strong calls for environmental protection soon spread to the political arena.
“We impose heavy taxes on relatively environmentally friendly buses and rail transit, but ignore air transport.” When this sentence is spoken from the Peter Liese of the European Parliament’s first party people’s party, it means that the formulation of policies for the civil aviation industry is already in the firing line.
In fact, the actions of the governments of EU member states have already begun.
The latest case comes from France. In July 9th, the government announced that it would begin to levy environmental taxes (ecotaxe) on flights within the country from 2020. The tax on single tickets will fluctuate between 1.5 euro and 18 Euro depending on the range of flights. The French government expects the tax to generate about 180 million euros a year in revenue for the Treasury.
“I think airlines need to pay a price for greenhouse gas emissions, which must be reflected in the price of air tickets”. Ma Kelong’s new tax items were supported by Svenja Schulze, Germany’s environment minister for the first time.
In fact, Germany introduced Luftverkehrssteuer as early as 2011 for environmental protection. In addition, the United Kingdom, China and France have introduced different aviation taxes before France, and also announced that they will levy at least 7.5 Euro air tax from 2021.
Comparisons of current air/environmental taxes on individual tickets in European countries. Data source: European Commission
On the higher level of the European Union, von Delaine, the incoming president of the European Commission, is also ready to launch operations on major European airlines. Under her initiative, Green Deal, the European Union will reduce the number of carbon permits allocated to airlines year by year. The initiative quickly received strong support from France and the Netherlands.
Since 2012, European civil aviation industry has been incorporated into the European Union’s carbon emission permit trading system (ETS). But up to now, about 85% of airlines’licenses are free, and companies only need to pay for the remaining carbon emissions. European airlines will need to pay at least 800 million euros more per year if the current “half-sell, half-deliver” licensing system is abolished.
In addition to levying aviation taxes and strengthening the carbon emission permit system, another political means to try to limit the civil aviation industry is to levy aviation fuel taxes.
Unlike the widely applicable diesel duty and gasoline tax in the automotive industry, the Chicago Convention, which was signed in 1944, provides tax relief for aviation fuel. At present, the fuel surcharge levied by major aviation companies and civil aviation agencies is not related to aviation fuel tax, at least in the legal sense.
In May this year, Ma Long told the French media that it would renew the old agreement and try to levy an aviation fuel tax in the whole Europe. In fact, as early as the G8 summit in 2007, the eight industrial countries had initially discussed the restoration of aviation fuel tax, but in the end, they were left behind by the outbreak of the financial crisis.
According to a study submitted to the European Commission by environmental group Transport & Environment before the general election in May, the resumption of air fuel tax is expected to reduce the carbon emissions of European Airlines by 11%, at the cost of an average 10% increase in ticket prices and 11% of civil aviation workers facing unemployment.
Whether it is environmental tax, aviation tax, aviation fuel tax, or rising carbon emissions trading licenses, European airlines, which are increasingly caught in price war, are undoubtedly fatal.
Wow Air, Germania, Flybmi, PrivatAir, Small Planet, Cobalt, Primera Air, Cello… Within a year, the number of European Airlines filing for bankruptcy due to cheaper fares has approached double digits.
Faced with the challenge, Airlines reluctant to wait for death began to rescue themselves.
The CORSIA Agreement (Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) is the first answer submitted by the civil aviation industry. Under the agreement, major airlines promised not to increase carbon emissions since 2020, and all passenger traffic and revenue growth would be achieved on a carbon-neutral basis.
Another answer for airlines is to invest more in new aviation technologies, including alternative fuels, hybrid and electric flights, and aggressive flight taxis.
However, the “far water” of these new technologies can not solve the “near thirst”.
In terms of production of alternative fuels, although the Power2Liquid technology of industrial giants including SIEMENS group is relatively mature, limited capacity and high cost make aviation kerosene still irreplaceable. At present, electric flight seems to be only a “big toy” for some people. Even the Alice electric powered aircraft launched by Eviation Aircraft, which is the most popular Israeli airshow this year, can carry only 9 people.
For airlines, the more practical strategy at present is not to resist pressure from all walks of life, but to try to retain the tax levied in the civil aviation field. Thomas Jasonbek (Thomas Jarzombek), a German Civil Aviation liaison man, said: “the increase in air ticket prices is feasible, but the premise is that the tax should be returned to the civil aviation industry in the form of financial subsidies, especially the development of electric and hybrid flight technology.”
By contrast, the environmental tax imposed by the government has finally flowed into the railway sector to subsidize the SNCF. The German government is also preparing legislation to attract people to switch trains by reducing the value added tax of German railway.
Finally, European airlines have a powerful political card: fairness. This is precisely the biggest obstacle to levying aviation tax or aviation fuel tax.
Because of the relatively small size of European countries, travelers in all countries can easily evade a wide range of taxes by changing airports in neighbouring countries. Therefore, in the view of many critics, the new tax items not only increase the burden of domestic airlines, but also are typical non-market behaviors of the government distorting competition conditions. After all, in such a globally competitive industry, Island-based solutions do not make much sense.
In order to avoid aviation fuel tax, airlines can also choose to add excess aviation kerosene in Switzerland, Norway and other non EU countries to reduce costs. The increase in take-off weight will result in increased carbon emissions. This conclusion is also supported by Eurocontrol, the largest aviation insurance company in Europe. According to the agency’s data, in order to make full use of the tax rate differences between European countries, 15% of the European airlines took too much fuel when they took off, which resulted in an annual increment of carbon emissions equivalent to that of a small city with a population of one hundred thousand.
Even if the EU eventually reaches a unified standard across Europe, for travelers, the increase in taxes and fees is bound to make travel more expensive. Critics argue that air travel may become the privilege of the middle class and the wealthy, an untouchable no-go zone in an egalitarian Europe. The yellow vest movement that broke out last year is the best case.
Take for example a German widowed old man known by journalists in a neighborhood mutual aid organization. Even if the old man can only get meager government relief, he even needs to pick up bottles to supplement his family. But saving 600 euros a year for a trip is essential.
In the view of many opinion leaders, the growing demand for travel is the foundation of the free flow of people within the EU, as well as the necessary prerequisite for social and cultural inclusion and diversity. Deliberately reducing the travel demand of the underprivileged through price mechanism is by no means the best solution to the problem.
On the other hand, once the boots of the new tax are finally landed, large airlines with more cost-constrained space will undoubtedly be more resilient than small, cheap airlines, so it is likely to trigger a new wave of mergers and acquisitions of European airlines, and ultimately weaken the market competitiveness, making the choice of ordinary consumers less. And this is no doubt contrary to the EU’s political philosophy that vetoed the merger of Alston and SIEMENS.