Airline bailouts without climate conditions would be unlawful, campaigners warn

6 May 2020 by Tom Otley

Lawyers acting for climate change charity Possible have written to the Chancellor warning that providing bailouts for airlines without conditions to protect the climate would leave the government open to legal challenge.

UK Law firm, Leigh Day, sent a legal letter to the Chancellor today to inform the government that any support packages for airlines must come with requirements to reduce emissions in line with the UK’s net-zero by 2050 target.

Campaigners are keen to pressure governments to add commitments to the bailouts being offered to airlines around the world

Environmental commitments should be required before airline bailouts, says Greenpeace

Leigh Day is acting for climate charity Possible. It wrote to the Chancellor today to warn that airline bailouts without climate conditions attached would be incompatible with existing legal obligations on climate change. Any bailouts failing to adhere to the UK’s net-zero by 2050 target, or its international commitments to help limit warming to 1.5 degrees, would be open to legal challenge.

The lawyers also informed the government that measures to support airlines should take into account the climate impacts of aviation’s non-CO2 emissions, which are around the same size as the CO2 impacts.

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If the government does decide to bail out airlines, charity Possible is calling for any bailouts to be conditional on measures to manage demand for aviation in line with legal climate targets, including the introduction of a progressive tax to limit frequent flying by the 15 per cent of people who take 70 per cent of all flights.

Alethea Warrington, campaigner at Possible, said,

“We need to build a low-carbon transport system that works for everyone, not just for a small minority of wealthy frequent flyers–and the airline bosses cashing in on the damage flying does to our climate. Recovery from Covid-19 will need huge public investment, which must go to building a better future for everyone, not propping up polluters.”

The legal letter from Possible is supported by other NGOs, including Flight Free UK and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

Possible is calling for any public support provided to airlines to include the following conditions:

  • All aviation industry employees must receive at least the Real Living Wage for the duration of the crisis, and there must be a commitment to avoid lay-offs. Appropriate support must be provided for workers to transition to low-carbon industries.
  • Airlines must be prevented from diverting bailout funds to dividends or share buybacks. They must also begin paying a fair share of tax, including a Frequent Flyer Levy to equitably reduce demand. The government should consider demanding an equity stake in return for state assistance.
  • Airlines must be required to adopt short-term emissions reductions targets which are in line with the Paris Agreement. They must also explain how they will meet those targets, without relying on offsets or other measures which do not sufficiently reduce climate impacts.

In addition Possible has been campaigning for the introduction of a Frequent Flyer Levy.

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