One of the saddest facts about travel aside from over-tourism and generally gross tourist behavior is that air travel is truly bad for the planet, responsible for at least 2 to 3% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions globally. While hybrid and electric planes are slowly being developed, and biofuel for jets is in the works as an affordable, sustainable solution, the planet is overheating, and plane travel’s carbon footprint is making it worse.
Now France is doing something to make air travel slightly less awful for the planet. Last month, the country urged the European Union to end global tax exemptions for jet fuel in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions. The EU, which has set a goal of slashing carbon emissions by 2030, has yet to act on air travel, and France decided not to wait. The country is introducing an eco-tax on airlines flying from its airports to help support the environment, the transport minister said on Tuesday.
What does that mean for travelers? The tax is small enough that most people won’t feel the addition to the airfare. Reuters says it will be a mere 1.5 euros for flights within France or the European Union, 3 euros for economy flights out of the EU, 9 euros for business class flights within the EU, and up to 18 euros for business class tickets out of the EU. Flights within France, flights to Corsica, and transit flights (aka, your four-hour layover at Charles De Gaulle) will not be taxed.
Despite the relatively low tax price tag, France expects to earn about 180 million euros ($202 million) a year, which it will use to finance more eco-friendly modes of transportation, including the country’s train system. As AFP notes, France isn’t the first country to try taxing air travel. Sweden introduced a heftier version in April 2018, which added up to 40 euros on every ticket in its effort to lessen the impact of air travel on the climate by hitting customers where it hurts (their wallets).
A carbon tax like this is added to products and services that emit carbon, making them marginally more expensive in proportion to the amount of carbon they emit into the atmosphere. Placing a carbon tax on something like international air travel, which is typically a luxury and not a basic need, puts the burden of paying for carbon offsets on people who can most afford it and are emitting the most carbon.
Since the stock market is rarely forward thinking, airplane stocks fell sharply across Europe after the tax was announced, as Reuters reports, including at Air France and Lufthansa, which has been working toward adding carbon offset purchasing to its booking process. The stock market’s response may also be due to a movement that the Swedes (and the Washington Post) have dubbed “flight shaming,” where airlines, most notably KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, urge travelers to consider flying less.
It’s a great move for the planet, if not for airlines’ bottom line.