Calls for Nicola Sturgeon to scrap air taxes to meet climate change target

Plans to slash the cost of aviation taxes in Scotland may have to be scrapped due to the introduction of new legally binding climate change targets, Nicola Sturgeon has suggested.

Nicola Sturgeon faces pressure to cut air tax in Scotland. Picture: Getty
Nicola Sturgeon faces pressure to cut air tax in Scotland. Picture: Getty

The First Minister said ministers would have to “reconsider” a whole range of policies as a result of the commitment, including plans to replace Air Passenger Duty (APD) with a new, cheaper levy.

The move follows the Scottish Government‘s decision to introduce the world’s toughest emissions reduction target with the aim of ending the nation’s contribution to global warming within 25 years.

The Climate Change Bill will be amended to set a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland by 2045, five years faster than the UK as a whole.

Nicola Sturgeon faces pressure to cut air tax in Scotland. Picture: Getty

However, Ms Sturgeon said the decision meant that ministers would now have to “look carefully at every single policy” to make sure the ambitious target could be met.

One of the policies in the firing line is the SNP‘s long-standing plan to replace APD – the tax on all passengers leaving UK airports – with a new levy called Air Departure Tax (ADT) costing half as much.

The new tax has already been hit by severe delays due to a legal wrangle with the EU involving state aid rules, and Ms Sturgeon told MSPs it would definitely not be brought in this year.

After being pressed to scrap the cuts to air taxes by Labour leader Richard Leonard and Green MSP Alison Johnstone, the First Minister said the climate change target would have a knock-on effect on other areas.

“Right across all areas of our responsibility, the renewed commitment that we have made today means that we have to look carefully at every single policy,” she added.

“I hope that all parties are prepared to rise to the challenge, to drop the knee-jerk opposition that suits short-term politics and to unite behind doing what is right for the future of our planet.”

Her spokesman added later: “All policies will now need to be looked at with a view to the enhanced targets that are being set. By definition, that encompasses everything.

“Obviously there was a focus in the chamber on Air Departure Tax. That’s clearly part of the mix.”

Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats all called for the “unfair and environmentally damaging” policy to be scrapped, claiming it would benefit wealthy frequent fliers.

But Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said it was “disappointed” that ministers appeared to be reconsidering its position on APD.

“The proposed reduction in APD is an important economic lever that is particularly important to Scotland, which is at a disadvantage relative to other European countries,” she added.

Airlines UK, the industry association that represents 13 UK-registered carriers and has backed the tax cut plan, said an “international approach” to emissions reduction would work best.

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport added: “The Scottish Government already implements a successful cut in APD in Inverness which has delivered fantastic economic benefits.

“We firmly believe that an APD cut should be used a lever to do the same for Scotland as a whole, boosting our economy during these turbulent times.”