Who will really benefit from the new Air Departure Tax?

This afternoon, MSPs will approve the Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill, giving the Scottish ministers the power to set air travel tax for the first time. But while devolving the tax from Westminster control to Holyrood is fairly uncontroversial, what the Scottish Government plan to do with that power is a different matter.

© Bernal Saborio CC BY-SA 2.0

The devolution of aviation tax was recommended by the Smith Commission after the independence referendum, and delivered in the Scotland Act 2016. UK-controlled Air Passenger Duty (APD) – the tax that is added to every adult ticket – will cease to apply in Scotland, and the Bill being voted on today will replace it with a Scottish-controlled Air Departure Tax (APD).

Air Passenger Duty and Air Departure Tax are essentially very similar, but they diverge in one important way: the SNP Scottish Government has promised to cut its new tax to half the level of the previous APD by the next Scottish Parliament election, and abolish it altogether “when resources allow”.

Aviation tax raises over £300m per year in Scotland, and by the next election is projected to raise £378m per year. So a 50% cut means a tax giveaway of over £180m every year by 2022.

It will come as no surprise that such a huge subsidy to aviation will have serious environmental consequences. While every other sector of the economy is contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, no progress has been made in transport in over 25 years, and aviation emissions are actually increasing.

That’s all before the unwelcome subsidy planned by the Scottish Government, whose own figures estimate that halving aviation tax will generate greenhouse gases equivalent to an extra 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, as Transform Scotland and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland point out in their briefing for MSPs.

When challenged on this obviously backwards move on climate change, the Scottish Government invariably answer that other sectors can make emission reductions to make up for the carbon splurge in aviation. They’ve never said who exactly is going to have to do more or spend more money to cover for their generosity to the airlines.

What we do know is who will benefit. The first and most obvious beneficiary is the airline industry, which already receives special treatment. Airlines pay no tax on fuel, and there is not VAT on airline tickets (like essentials such as food and baby clothes, but unlike, for example, tampons. These exemptions meant an effective tax subsidy of £11.4bn to the UK aviation sector in 2012 – over £400 per household.

Of course, those who fly will also likely benefit from lower fares, at the expense of those who use the public services the tax revenue would otherwise support. Which means this cut very effectively takes from the poor and gives to the rich, as described in the report Air Departure Tax: Who Benefits?, produced by the Fellow Travellers campaign for the Green MSPs.

That report shows that 70% of all flights are taken by just 15% of people, and in any year over half of Scots do not fly at all. Whether and how often you fly is closely linked to your wealth: 70% of the poorest 10% have not flown in the past year, while 70% of the richest 10% have.

The biggest winners will be those who can afford to fly frequently or in luxury. About half of those who do fly take one or two flights a year, but 1 in 20 passengers flies at least four times per month – these people are predominantly in the richest 10% and can expect to gain over 40 times as much from the tax giveaway. Air commuters, overwhelmingly among the wealthiest travellers, will gain an average of £850 a year.

The Bill being voted on today does not set the rates of the Air Departure Tax; it just creates the mechanism. Amendments proposed by Andy Wightman MSP (Greens, Lothian) will seek to require the Government to set the tax rates “in the way best calculated to make progress toward” our legally-binding climate targets, and to publish an assessment of the environmental impact of their proposed rates. But even if those amendments don’t pass, the fight to stop the Scottish Government using its new power to subsidise wealthy frequent flyers at the expense of the rest of us and the environment we all live in still lies ahead.

Ultimately, the Government will have to answer the question: at a time of climate crisis, struggling public services and rampant inequality, is it really the person in business class who is most in need of our generosity?

The debate on the Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill will start this afternoon at around 3.20pm. You can watch live on the Scottish Parliament or BBC websites.

 

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Scotland needs to build on climate success

Last week brought the good news that Scotland had met its latest climate target, with real emissions of greenhouse gases 3% lower than the year before.   This is great progress and shows that we are firmly on track to meet our 2020 climate target of reducing emissions by 42% from 1990 levels.

This target and the target of 80% emissions reduction by 2050, were agreed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament as the right figures to ensure Scotland made a proper contribution to the fight to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade.

Crucially, in 2009 no-one knew how we would reach that 42% target, and the first action plan listed policies that would just about get us there – but only if there was a very significant tightening of European rules on power stations and factories.  Those changes never happened, yet here we are on track to meet or even beat the 2020 target because of the success of Scotland’s renewable energy sector as well as improvements in home insulation and how we deal with waste.

This is an important lesson to take into setting new targets, as we are promised in a new climate bill due soon.

The First Minster has spoken strongly several times about Scotland making its contribution to meeting the targets in the UN Paris Agreement.  That means aiming for well below 2 degrees of warming and making efforts towards 1.5 degrees to protect the most vulnerable people in low-lying nations and island states.

The world is already at 1 degree of warming, and international pledges under the Paris Agreement would have taken us to at least a catastrophic 3.5 degrees even before Donald Trump started ripping up US climate policy.  So the world is sorely in need of good examples.

In announcing the latest climate results the Cabinet Secretary also announced the Scottish Government plans to aim for a 90% emissions reduction by 2050.  This is an improvement from the current 80% goal but we and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition want Scotland to aim higher, with an end to all climate emissions by 2050.  This would be an iconic signal of intent and 2050 is clearly so far away that tough targets will be met by technologies and techniques we haven’t even thought of yet.

Just as important as the mid-century target, the new target for 2030 will be the one that will drive action to reduce emissions in the important next decade.  Scotland already has a draft climate change plan with actions set out to 2032 but it is predictably disappointing on transport, agriculture and forestry.

The Scottish Government asked their official advisors what Scotland should do to help deliver the Paris Agreement.  Crucially the UK Committee on Climate Change didn’t answer this question, they just came back with what they thought we can do, not what climate science says we absolutely need to do.  And their verdict?  Do nothing extra at all up to 2030 and then try a bit harder after that.

Quite clearly, doing nothing extra for the next 13 years isn’t being more ambitious nor making any kind of effort towards the Paris Agreement goals.  It will be desperately disappointing if that’s all the Scottish Government offers when it starts consulting on the climate bill, and they will face a big fight.

To deliver on the SNP’s promises, and to be the kind of good example we were when we agreed the 2009 Climate Act, we need to be aiming higher.  That means an end to all climate emissions by 2050, and 2030 and 2040 targets that drive strong action consistent with well below 2 degrees warming as a very minimum.

Tougher targets are good for us.  They mean warmer, healthier homes, better transport options, less air pollution and greener agriculture.  Let’s have those rewards and do our bit for the global fight on climate at the same time.

This blog was published in the Scotsman on 20th June 2017.

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Low Emission Zones could help ensure our right to clean air

We can’t see it, but air pollution continues to plague Scotland’s busiest places. Two tiers of legal protections – both Scottish standards and European law – are being broken years after a deadline. There are 38 designated Pollution Zones across 14 Council areas where levels of toxic air are deemed unsafe.

As a result of the Scottish Government’s failure to act on this health crisis, we are forced to breathe in toxic gases and particles that have been linked with cancer, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, and poor lung development in kids. This invisible killer is responsible for over 2500 early deaths in Scotland each year.

Air quality monitoring station in Glasgow

Air quality monitoring station Glasgow

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Major investment manager BMO divests

BMO Asset Management announced on Monday they will divest their entire ‘Responsible’ range of funds from fossil fuels by 2020.

You probably haven’t heard of BMO, but they are quite a major investment firm and their responsible funds are worth £1.5 billion. Continue reading

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4 May elections: do your candidates support green investment?

Fossil free activists across Scotland have been busy asking election candidates to sign our petition for councils to divest from fossil fuels.

On 4 May new councillors will be elected across the country. They will have the power to get councils out of polluting companies to instead invest the £35 billion local government pension scheme in a way that doesn’t drive climate change.

The following candidates have signed our petition:

John Dennis Independent Dumfries and Galloway
Laura Moodie Green Dumfries and Galloway
Lesley Brennan Labour Dundee
Richard McCready‏ Labour Dundee
Laura Forrest SNP East Lothian
Fraser McAllister SNP East Lothian
Elisabeth Wilson Liberal Democrats East Lothian
David Allison Green East Renfrewshire
Chas Booth Green Edinburgh City
Steve Burgess Green Edinburgh City
Mary Campbell Green Edinburgh City
Dan Heap Green Edinburgh City
John Knox Liberal Democrats Edinburgh City
Sara Marsden Green Edinburgh City
Iain McKinnon-Waddell Green Edinburgh City
Claire Miller Green Edinburgh City
John Nichol Green Edinburgh City
Alexander Staniforth Green Edinburgh City
Evelyn Weston Green Edinburgh City
Debra Pickering Green Falkirk
Janine Rennie‏ Independent Falkirk
Fergus Cook Green Fife
Craig Duncan Solidarity Fife
Karen Majoram SNP Fife
Andy Collins Green Fife
David Hansen Green Fife
Bill Mair Solidarity Fife
Fiona McOwan Green Fife
Cass MacGregor Green Glasgow City
Andrew Smith Green Glasgow City
Martha Wardrop Green Glasgow City
Chris Ballance Green Highland
Sandra Owsnett Green Highland
Ian Baxter Green Midlothian
Malcolm Spaven Green Midlothian
John Mitchell Liberal Democrats Moray
Johnny McCloskey Independent North Ayrshire
Robert Kay Green North Lanarkshire
Simon Tarry Independent Orkney
Elspeth Coutts Green Perth & Kinross
Sarah Anderson Green Renfrewshire
Emma McShane Green Renfrewshire
Catriona Hamilton Green Scottish Borders
Craig Dalzell Green South Lanarkshire
Isobel Dorman SNP South Lanarkshire
Linda Hendry Green Stirling East
Jim Bollan Unite/Community Party West Dunbartonshire
Sean Quinn Green West Dunbartonshire
Elaine Mallon Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition West Lothian
Scott Rogers Labour West Lothian

Help us grow this list! You can find who’s standing for the 4th May elections in your area using this tool created by our friends at Walk Cycle Vote. You can then email your candidates using our template message or send them a Tweet.

If you’re a candidate and you want to be added to this list simply sign our petition at reinvest.scot/join.

  • Find out more about why councils should divest from fossil fuels by exploring our dedicated site Reinvest Scotland.

This blog was updated with additional signatures at 5pm on 3rd May 2017.

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Watch, listen and read: divestment is big news across the country

Our report ‘Divest and Reinvest: Scottish council pensions for a future worth living in’ was covered widely in local and national media.

Read about what the reaction was in your local area by clicking the boxes. You could then contact your local council candidates with the story to ask them what they think.

Hear more about our research on council investment and how we could bring green jobs to Scotland with the media links below.

BBC Radio Orkney interview with Ric Lander, Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Video of the report launch at SNP conference featuring Robin McAlpine of Common Weal, Sakina Sheikh of Platform, and Ivan Mckee MSP.

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New report published: “Divest and Reinvest – Scottish council pensions for a future worth living in”

Our new report, ‘Divest and Reinvest: Scottish council pensions for a future worth living in’ was published on Monday 13 March. The report recieved widespread media coverage and has been sent directly to councillors and trustees. To read it in full download a printable PDF here or explore the buttons at Reinvest.Scot.

Divest and Reinvest Summary

Scotland’s councils continue to invest in the companies most responsible for climate change, holding a £1,683 million stake in fossil fuel companies through their pension funds.

4.8% of the Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme is invested in fossil fuels – £3,300 for every scheme member. £543 million is directly invested in oil and gas and £113 million in coal. The majority of holdings, £1,046 million, were invested through intermediaries.

Councils invest in BP, who are fracking and drilling for oil in the Arctic as well as having a history of campaigning against subsidies for renewable energy, and BHP Billiton, the 12th largest extractor of coal in the world, currently mining in the centre of the Borneo rainforest and facing prosecution over Brazil’s worst ever environmental disaster. Continue reading

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Car obsessed transport policy has to change

Last week the Scottish Parliament debated the Scottish Government’s draft climate change plan. The plan is supposed to show how each sector of the economy from transport to farming, from buildings to big industry, is going to help reduce Scotland emissions to two-thirds of 1990 levels by 2030. Four committees of MSPs have done a great job interrogating the plan and the debate was based on their findings.

The committees found things to welcome but also called for a lot more work to be done to get the plan into shape. The transport proposals came in for particular criticism. The Transport sector is the largest sector of carbon emissions for Scotland, producing more than a quarter of all emissions in 2014 and has seen no significant reduction in emission since 1990, while overall emissions have fallen by over 45%. Our two coal-fired power stations at Longannet and Cockenzie produced about the same emissions as transport in 1990. They are both closed but cars, lorries and planes are still producing the same – less from each individual vehicle but traffic growth has wiped out any gains from efficiency improvements.

The 2009 Climate Act requires Scotland’s emissions to reduce by at least 3% every year from 2020, but the actions in the new plan would see transport emissions falling at less than half that rate.   Perhaps we should celebrate the idea that transport will actually do something about emissions at last, but when you look at the details you find that the plan is basically to let traffic grow, mostly ignore walking, cycling and public transport, and hope that changes in technology will save us.

A major problem is the starting assumptions about how we’ll get about in the future. Transport Scotland’s traffic model says there will be 27% more miles driven in 2035 than today. When the government published a 2006 transport strategy it predicted that traffic levels would grow by 22% between 2005 and 2015. The actual growth in traffic levels was 6%. An earlier plan had a similarly wild prediction. The fundamental assumptions used to create the transport numbers fed into the climate plan are clearly nonsense.

We know that preventing traffic growing is the best way to avoid spending billions on new roads and bridges. Yet Transport Scotland don’t seem to have had the slightest interest in how to head off demand or encourage walking, cycling or public transport. Helping people to make different transport choices also contributes to improved air quality, more active people and healthier local economies, as well as reduced climate emissions and congestion. When the plan came out in January the tabloids screamed about congestion charge, charges to park at work and 4x4s being banned from urban areas. We should be considering all these things, but sadly they are not in the climate plan. Technically the idea of workplace parking charges does get a passing mention but there is no commitment to it and it wouldn’t even be possible without passing a new law.

The modelling suggests no growth at all in the use of buses – presumably because everybody is expected to have at least 3 cars by 2030. There is a commitment to electrify more of the rail network, but at the rate proposed it would be 2140 before the whole system was converted.

European car standards are supposed to help reduce emissions. Even though they won’t apply soon. And 40% of all new cars sold will be ultra-low emissions by 2032. Yet the government’s own climate advisors said we should aim for 65% by 2030 and Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway are all discussing targets of 100% by 2025 or 2030.

On walking and cycling there is nothing significant new and it is pretty obvious that Scotland doesn’t have a hope of delivering the ‘vision’ of 10% of all journeys by bicycle by 2020, when the current rate is more like 2%.

There are things to fix on agriculture, industry and buildings too, but the car-obsessives at Transport Scotland clearly need to try a lot harder, with more measures to support walking, cycling and public transport. And even more electric cars please, but less cars overall, or this plan will have failed.

This blog appeared in Scotland on Sunday on 19th March 2017

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Transport needs to go back to the drawing board on climate change

Today the Scottish Parliament will discuss Scotland’s draft climate plan.  Four committees of MSPs have grilled witnesses, sifted facts and produced hundreds of pages of detailed and insightful analysis of the Scottish Government’s plan to reduce climate emissions by two-thirds by 2030.

Like us the MSPs find things to welcome but also think there is a lot more work to do to get the plan in shape.  No-where is this more true than in the transport section.  The Transport sector is the largest sector of carbon emissions for Scotland, producing 28% of all emissions in 2014 and has seen no significant reduction in emission since 1990, while overall emissions have fallen by over 45%.

The 2009 Climate Act required Scotland’s emissions to reduce by at least 3% every year from 2020, but the actions in the new plan would see transport emissions falling at less than half that rate.   Perhaps we should welcome the idea that transport will actually do something about emissions, instead of the nothing at all it’s been doing for the last two decades.  But when you look at the details you find that the plan is basically to let traffic grow, mostly ignore walking, cycling and public transport, and hope that technology will save us.

The starting point for the future of transport is Transport Scotland traffic model which says there will be 27% more miles driven in 2035 than today (and no increase in the use of buses).  The predictions of increased distances driven are justified in the plan with this interesting statement:  “As historically, so in future we expect economic and population growth to increase the demand for the movement of goods, services and people.”  Transport Scotland’s view of history is clearly rather odd.  When the government published a 2006 transport strategy it predicted that traffic levels would grow by 22% between 2005 and 2015.  The actual growth in traffic levels was 6%.  The fundamental assumptions used to create the transport numbers fed into the climate plan are clearly nonsense.

Transport Scotland don’t seem to have had the slightest interest in how to head off demand or encourage walking, cycling or public transport.  This is despite the findings of a 2009 report which showed that measures like workplace parking levies, speed limit reductions and increased public parking charges are, for instance, four or five times more cost effective at reducing carbon emissions than investment in electric vehicles.  By helping people to make different transport choices these kind of measures contribute to improved air quality, more active citizens and healthier local economies, as well as reduced climate emissions and congestion.

There is a remarkable statement in the plan used to summarily dismiss the potential for more people to use public transport, which perfectly illustrates Transport Scotland’s obsession with driving:  “any behavioural switch from private to public transport is likely to be limited by capacity of the sector to absorb significant new traffic.”  So if people want to drive more, we build them more roads.  If people want to use public transport more – oh, sorry not enough buses or trains.

The biggest reductions in emissions are supposed to come from a tightening of vehicle standards from the European Union.  A Union we are about to leave.  Even where technical fix measures are desirable and necessary the proposals look weak in terms of both delivery and international comparisons.  The Plan envisages that 40% of all new cars sold will be ultra-low emissions by 2032, yet the government’s own climate advisors said we should aim for 65% by 2030.  Meanwhile, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway are all discussing or committed to targets of 100% by 2025 or 2030.

On transport the government need to go back to the drawing board, come up some traffic targets that are actually credible, aim higher on electric vehicles, walking and cycling, and stop marginalising buses and trains.

This blog appeared in the National on 16th March 2017.

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Fracking – what’s going on in England ?

As the Scottish Government consults on whether or not to allow fracking to go ahead, a look south of the border gives a taste of what may come to pass if Ministers end up allowing the controversial industry to proceed. Theresa May’s government has chosen to stick with its predecessors ‘all out for shale’ approach, in the face of huge opposition from communities on the frontline.  But, despite a supportive government, the industry is meeting with obstacles and resistance every step of the way, and struggling to get underway.

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