Half of oversea flights come from one-tenth of English residents

04 October 2019 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
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A minority of just 10% of English residents account for more than half of the passengers on international flights from the country. The news has led to campaigners to call for regulatory action to rein in the businesses and individuals who are racking up huge levels of carbon emissions, including a frequent flyer levy.

Having briefly accelerated following the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement, decarbonisation aimed at reducing the impact of global warming is slowing at a dramatic rate. According to a recent report from PwC, if the world is to meet the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement, efforts may need to be increased by as much as seven times in the coming years, while governments may need to ask questions that compromise the profitability of certain industries.

Despite this, the response to man-made climate change remains firmly muted, with governments and companies preferring to emphasise individual responsibility over collective solutions. This train of thought maintains that if every member of society does their bit, there will be no need for broader systemic change. The aviation sector accounted for about 7% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, however, and is projected to be the single biggest source of emissions in the UK by 2050 due to the steadily increasing demand for flights, and increasingly a regulatory solution seems the only answer to this.

More UK residents were passengers on international flights than any other nation in 2018

Over the course of 2018, UK residents accounted for the largest amount of international air travel of any country. While the data from the International Air Transport Association said that more Britons had travelled abroad, that does not mean that the culpability for ecological impact of that should be spread evenly. Surpassing both the US and China, 126.2 million passengers on international flights in 2018 were British – totalling 8.6%, or roughly one in 12 of all international travellers – but the UK population currently rests at 66.02 million.

Helping to explain this, new data published in a Department for Transport survey, released by The Guardian in September, found that 48% of people living in England do not fly internationally at all. On the other hand, just 10% of residents account for more than half of all overseas flights from the country. Even more startlingly, the study also revealed that the top 1% of most frequent flyers in England took more than half of all the nation’s international flights in 2018.

If a large portion of England does not fly at all, while just 10% ramp up the level of air traffic attributed to English passengers, then it becomes increasingly difficult to claim individual action is enough on the matter. The small number of serial-travellers in England are not just taking to the skies for the pursuit of leisure – many fly for business. The UK consulting industry exemplifies this, racking up more miles to bring in work than any other, while extolling a sustainability agenda domestically. However, chasing profitability around the world with international flights is becoming increasingly hard to ignore when it comes to its environmental impact.

10% of English residents accounted for more than half the nations overseas flights in that time

The news has bolstered calls for a frequent flyer levy, a proposal under which each citizen would be allowed one tax-free flight per year but would pay progressively higher taxes on each additional flight taken. Environmental activists have pointed to these figures as a sign that the UK could cut air traffic and emissions without affecting ordinary holidaymakers.

Speaking to The Guardian, Leo Murray, Director of Innovation at 10:10 Climate Action, said, “There is this narrative that tackling the climate change problem from aviation means stopping people from taking holidays or seeing their families – and actually, when you look at this data that is wrong. What we need to do is target a minority of problem flyers and stop them from taking so many flights.”