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France Stands Up to Climate Change with “Eco-Tax” on Airlines

France announced a minimal charge on outgoing flights to help support initiatives in sustainable travel operations

France is taking action against climate change by establishing an “eco-tax” on outgoing air transportation to support more sustainable forms of travel.

In the announcement this week, the French the transport minister, Elisabeth Borne, said the move could raise around 180 million euros ($202 million) starting in 2020.

“With the eco-contribution, air transport will play its part in financing the daily transport of all our citizens,” Borne said via Twitter. She added, “It is a response to the ecological urgency and sense of injustice expressed by the French,” she said in a statement.

As a reaction to the plan, IATA, the international air transport body, issued a statement of its own.

“This tax is misguided. Since 1990, airlines have reduced carbon emissions per passenger 50%, and from 2020 will be paying to offset all the growth in emissions. A tax will not help the industry to invest in cleaner fuels and technology. It will also damage EUR 100 billion that aviation generates for the French economy, and 500,000 new jobs are at risk from the lack of competitiveness of French aviation. 81% of French people don’t trust their government to spend environmental taxes on environmental action. On their behalf, we will hold the French government to account to spend this tax on accelerating aviation sustainability, especially prioritizing more efficient air traffic control and promoting sustainable fuels.”

Air France also came out against the tax, claiming the measure would be “extremely penalizing for Air France, of which 50% of its flights are operated out of France, and notably for its domestic network, where losses amounted to above 180 million euros [$202 million] in 2018.”

The actual amount of the tax per flight is quite minimal and will depend on the type of ticket being purchased. A fee of €1.50 (about $1.70) will be levied on economy class tickets and up to €18 (about $20.20) will be charged for business class tickets. A similar Air Passenger Duty is already in place in the UK. The tax will only apply to outgoing flights and not to those flying into the country. The money will be used to invest in less-polluting transport systems such as rail.

The United Nations-backed Climate Action Network International indicated support for the measure, noting the country’s brave willingness to move ahead on putting unpopular environmental actions in place rather than waiting on consensus from the European Union.

“The government is finally targeting tax breaks for the most polluting industries such as trucking and airlines, but these modest measures will not significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the organization’s spokesperson, Lorelei Limousin, told Reuters.

She added the tax exemptions for jet plane kerosene fuel cost French taxpayers more than 3.7 billion euros per year.