Posts in Policy

Scottish Government drops plans to cut aviation tax – what does this mean for the climate?

May 9th, 2019 Posted by Blogs, Policy No Comment yet
In this blog post, our Policy Team co-chair Alex Luetchford explores the news that the Scottish Government are no longer planning on scrapping Air Departure Tax.

With the Scottish and UK governments (as well as dozens of local authorities) declaring ‘climate emergencies’ over the past few weeks, there have been a string of good news stories regarding climate change recently. However, many environmental activists and groups had warned that merely declaring an emergency was meaningless unless followed up by strong action. It is heartening to see that this is starting to happen. As well as introducing more ambitious emissions targets, this week the Scottish Government announced that is is dropping its plans to scrap Air Departure Tax (ADT), saying that the policy does not fit in with Scotland’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2045..

2050 Climate Group strongly welcomes this decision-reversal; indeed, we argued against the tax cut way back in 2016 when the Government first consulted on the issue. Our position was developed by surveying the young people in our network, as it was found that on average, 38% our our Young Leaders’ carbon emissions came from flying.

We think it is amazing to see the Government’s previous declaration of a climate emergency being translated into positive action so quickly. That being said, more reform of the aviation industry is needed if we are to avoid climate breakdown. Our generation of young people stand to have the most to lose from the impacts of climate change – but we are also best placed to respond to this challenge. That’s why 2050 Climate Group exists to educate, engage, and empower young people to take climate action.

Where did this decision come from?

In 2016, the power to set Air Passenger Duty (now called Air Departure Tax) was devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP then pledged to scrap Air Passenger Duty in their manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood election. This tax is levied against each adult passenger on every flight departing from the UK (exceptions apply if you are just transferring flights in the UK, or travelling from Northern Ireland or the Scottish Highlands). The rate for short-haul flights (less than 2000 miles) is currently £13 for economy class and £26 for all other classes, with a much higher rate for long-haul flights.

The SNP argued that by initially halving the tax, and then eventually getting rid of it all together, Scotland would become a more connected place, with our airports becoming more attractive (i.e. cheaper) places to fly to. The SNP were seeking to improve Scotland’s economic performance, as well as boosting job creation and cultural exchange. On the face of it you can see the appeal – making it cheaper to fly to and from Scotland would increase tourism, and bring with it the associated economic gains.

However, it would obviously incentivise more flights, and thus an increase in fossil fuel consumption. The Government’s own analysis suggested that the policy of scrapping the tax would mean Scotland’s emissions increased by between 87,000 – 101,000 tonnes CO2e. We argued that any potential short term improvements to the economy gained by this policy would be outweighed by the long-term environmental and economic costs of climate change. We also pointed out that this policy was not coherent with the Scottish Government’s rhetoric and targets around climate change. Scrapping air tax whilst boosting active travel spending, for example, would be taking one step forward, two steps back. Their announcement this week seems to recognise this, with Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, saying that the policy was “incompatible” with their new target of having net-zero emissions by 2045.

Good news – but it could be better!

So, keeping ADT in place is good news, as it will avoid some additional greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a sign of intent from the Scottish Government. U-turns can be embarrassing for politicians, so it takes bravery to stand up and admit that a policy isn’t the right way forward. This decision is an example of the government seeming to take its declaration of a climate emergency seriously.

However, there is still plenty more work to do in terms of tackling emissions from transport. The 87,000 – 101,000 tonne CO2e increase in emissions from scrapping ADT would have increased emissions from Scotland’s transport sector by less than 1%. Quite simply, transport is the biggest problem Scotland faces in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The decision not to cut ADT is just a drop in the ocean. Whilst this U-turn is very welcome, we need bigger, bolder solutions.

Total emissions in Scotland have almost halved between 1990 and 2016, but transport has not followed this trend; in the same period, transport emissions only fell by 2.5%. Indeed, emissions from transport have actually been increasing since 2013, and now account for 37% of Scotland’s total emissions (more than any other industry).

Main Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Scotland, 1990 to 2016. Values in MtCO2e

Within the sector, road transport is the main problem, accounting for a whopping 73% of Scotland’s transport emissions in 2015. But let’s park that for now (if you’ll excuse the pun). This blog is about aviation emissions, which are also a big problem. These have increased by 46% since 1990, and they made up 15% of transport emissions in 2015.

Part of the problem is that aviation is already one of the least-taxed industries in the world. There is no tax on aeroplane fuel, and no VAT on airline tickets. As such, removing ADT would have resulted in aviation becoming a largely un-taxed industry. Instead of cutting ADT, the Scottish Government could use the climate emergency as an opportunity to implement higher, more progressive taxes on the aviation industry. Increasing the costs of high-carbon activities, like flying, is an important way of disincentivising people from these activities. One possibility would be a Frequent Flyer Tax, which would increase for each flight you take. Another alternative would be to structure tax incentives so that the airlines are incentivised to fly the most efficient planes, with a full load.

Furthermore, given that the aim of cutting ADT was to improve connectivity, it is notable that over half the gains made from this policy would have been from UK-internal flights. A much better way of increasing Scotland’s connectivity would thus be to look at boosting alternative, lower-carbon methods of transport within the UK. We are small country, geographically speaking, and so improving and investing in coaches and high-speed rail makes much more environmental sense. These forms of transport produce far fewer greenhouse gasses than flying, yet are already taxed more heavily.

Personal choices are shaped by policies

I live in Scotland, but hailing from sunny Sussex, I face a difficult decision every time I want to travel home to see my parents – a decision thousands of others also have to make when choosing how to travel long distance in this country.

On the one hand, I much prefer travelling by train. It is usually very comfortable, there’s no waiting around in security queues, and I get to enjoy the stunning scenery of the East Coast mainline. And of course, getting the train home is much greener – it produces almost 6 times fewer emissions than getting a flight from Edinburgh to Gatwick.

The view from the East Coast Mainline as it goes through Berwickshire

The view from the East Coast Mainline as it goes through Berwickshire (Photo credit: Mat Fascione [cc-by-sa/2.0])

The choice in how I travel is made much more difficult by the costs involved. If I booked a train right now, and even by booking advanced singles, the cost of a return trip is £168. Flying from Edinburgh to Gatwick on the same dates would cost me as little as £70. When I was a student I often had to fly home for Christmas because I simply couldn’t afford the train. Young people typically earn much less, so are under even more financial pressure to fly. Similarly, for organisations concerned by their travel budgets, the decision of whether to fly or train between Scotland and London is an obvious one. The Caledonian Sleeper service has just started running their fancy new carriages – but the cost of tickets has increased significantly. And these financial choices apply to holiday-makers too. The surge in cheap flights to European cities has made Ryanair the EU’s 10th biggest emitter of carbon emissions.

If the Government wants to tackle the problem of aviation-related carbon emissions seriously, it must do more than just U-turn on a tax cut. There are many, many policies that could reduce the climate impact of transport, but we must make long-distance rail travel cheaper than flying. 2050 starts now.


Our response to the Good Food Nation consulation

April 30th, 2019 Posted by News, Policy No Comment yet

The national food and drink policy, Becoming a Good Food Nation, was published in 2014. The policy sets a new vision for Scotland: that by 2025 Scotland will be “a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day.”

Our Policy team collected the views of young people and collated these into a response to the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation proposals for legislation consultation. We also made a video explaining the Good Food Nation proposals.


As an organisation aiming to engage, educate, and empower young people in Scotland, we wanted to know your views on Scotland as a Good Food Nation and make sure that young people’s voices are heard by Parliament.  We had 37 responses from young people both part of 2050 Climate Group and others, through our online survey and participants in our focus group discussions.

Our responses represented a wide range of views and opinions, but three major themes emerged:

1. Sustainability / climate change should be included in the meaning and focus of the Good Food Nation.

2. Ministers should be required to set statutory targets for Scotland’s progress towards becoming a Good Food Nation.

3. The private sector has a key role to play in the Good Food Nation and businesses above a particular threshold should be required to set out their own Good Food Nation policies.


Read our full consultation response to find out more.

Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) Scotland Bill

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Blogs, Policy No Comment yet

The Scottish Parliament is currently considering making the default speed limit on restricted roads 20mph, rather than 30mph, as it currently stands. This arguably has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, as well as increase road safety – but this is a controversial topic, and not everyone agrees. It is important that, regardless of whether you support or oppose the bill, you let Parliament know! You can respond to Parliament’s consultation survey here – it only takes a few minutes.

2050 Climate Group’s Policy Subgroup exists to help young people have their voice heard in decision making. We want you to do this based on your informed opinion. That’s why we have prepared this explainer to outline the purpose of the Bill, and the main arguments for and against it. Have a read, then fill out the survey so your views can be heard.

The deadline for survey submissions is 28 January 2019.

What is the Bill about?

The Bill would set the default speed limit on restricted roads to 20mph (instead of the current 30mph). Restricted roads are a type of road that is typically found in residential/urban areas. They are the roads around our homes and workplaces, where there are higher levels of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

Some local authorities, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Fife, have already introduced 20mph schemes. However, the limits of current legislation mean that these schemes had to be implemented on a road-by-road basis. This approach is complicated, time-consuming, and expensive for local authorities to administer, as they must specifically designate a change in the speed limit for road individually. By contrast, the Bill proposes making restricted roads 20mph by default – with councils retaining the power to implement 30mph limits on specific roads if they wanted (e.g., to create faster through-routes).

The Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament by Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Green Party) on 21st September 2018. It is currently being scrutinised by Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity committee, who have issued a call for evidence on the issues the Bill covers. They want to know what people think about it – and that includes you!

What are the benefits of 20mph?

Evidence shows that roads that are 20mph are safer for everyone – drivers, pedestrians, cyclists. 20mph roads have lower rates of serious and fatal traffic incidents, as drivers have more time to react to their surroundings.

Reducing speed of traffic also encourages more people to use active travel (walking and cycling). A perception of cycling as being ‘unsafe’ because of passing car traffic is a major barrier for many people. Reducing the speed limit will make cycling a more attractive mode of transport, and make pavements more pleasant places to walk. This in turn could lead to huge public health benefits, as regular exercise is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle with fewer health difficulties.

20mph could also be better for the environment. Firstly, if more people walk or cycle rather than drive, then overall emissions will be reduced. Reducing car journeys is vital for Scotland to reach its emissions targets, given that transport is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Secondly, on an individual level, most fossil-fuel-powered cars produce fewer emissions when travelling at 20mph as opposed to 30mph. Diesel and petrol cars both produce a mixture (in different quantities) of nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), and particulates (PM) when running. When travelling at 20mph (as opposed to 30mph), both petrol and diesel cars produce much fewer particulates – a major cause of poor air quality that is extremely damaging to people’s health.

Additionally, the reduced speed means that drivers need to brake, accelerate, or change gears less, and can maintain a more constant speed. This reduces wear-and-tear to vehicles – especially to brakes and tyres, which are another source of PM air pollution. Maintaining a constant speed is also a more fuel-efficient way of driving.

When travelling at 20mph, diesel cars produce significantly less NOx, and slightly less CO2. Petrol cars actually increase their emissions of NOx and CO2 when travelling at 20mph – but some studies suggest that the difference in the numbers of petrol vs diesel cars, and the substantial drop in emissions from diesel cars, more than makes up for this increase from petrol cars.

Whilst the science isn’t settled on the issue of how 20mph affects greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, it is clear that air pollution from PM would improve. Furthermore, proponents of the Bill would also argue that the road safety aspect is more important, and also that by reducing the speed of car journeys we can discourage their use, and in the long run reduce the total number of cars on the road.

Finally, the Bill would introduce 20mph speed limits through new signage and a public awareness campaign for motorists. By relying on signage, the implementation costs for local authorities would be significantly less than if new street design measures, such as speed bumps, were added to residential streets across the country. This approach would also reduce the administrative and financial complexity for local authorities. Adopting a blanket 20mph approach is cheaper and simpler in the long-run.

What are the arguments against the Bill?

Existing 20mph schemes tend to be based around areas with lots of vulnerable road users – e.g. schools, hospitals, and care homes. By increasing the number of 20mph streets, the ‘specialness’ of current schemes is reduced. This might lead to drivers taking less care around places like these that need extra protections.

Furthermore, a speed limit is less effective without proper enforcement. Drivers regularly break and ignore speed limits without any repercussions – so reducing the speed limit further will frustrate drivers even more, and possibly lead to more dangerous driving. For the Bill to be properly effective, it must be accompanied by sufficient traffic policing resources.

It can also be argued that there are other, more effective ways to improve road safety.

Firstly, the law could be updated to properly recognise motor vehicles as potentially lethal weapons, and increase punishments for dangerous driving offences. We could also introduce presumed liability for drivers in cases of collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. Under this system, the presumption of guilt would lie with the least vulnerable road user – so a motorist would have to prove they were not responsible for a collision with a pedestrian cyclist. This is a common approach in many European countries – the UK is one of only 5 that has not adopted some form of presumed liability.

Secondly, for a 20mph scheme to be really effective, roads must be (re)designed to encourage slower speeds – changing signs from 30 to 20 isn’t sufficient. A better way of improving road safety would be to narrow roads, and build speed bumps and chicanes, as these features physically force motorists to reduce speed. (However, doing this on a national scale would be prohibitively expensive).


Now please take a few minutes to fill out Parliament’s survey and let them know your views on this important Bill:


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