Departments miss own climate change targets to cut flights

HMRC tops departmental list of flights, according to analysis

Out of the 16 departments set the targets, just six are on track to reduce flight by at least 30% from the 2009/2010 baseline. Credit: PA

By Eleanor Langford

06 Feb 2020

More than half of all Whitehall departments are failing their own targets to cut the number of flights they use, research has revealed.

Since 2016, departments have been required to reduce the number of domestic flights taken by staff and ministers as part of the Greening Government initiative.

This is because shorter flights have a much greater environmental impact per person than long-haul flights, as the take-off and landing stages of a flight are the most inefficient.


But fresh analysis of government figures by CSW’s sister title PoliticsHome shows that out of the 16 departments set the targets, just six are on track to reduce flights by at least 30% from the 2009/2010 baseline.

Three departments have even seen an overall increase in flights, with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport almost doubling its use of air travel over the last decade.

Most departments are actually moving further from hitting their target, with 11 out of 16 experiencing an increase in flights between 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The Department for Exiting the European Union, which was created after the targets were set, saw the biggest year-on-year increase with a 105% rise in flight numbers.

The worst offenders in terms of number of flights last year were HMRC, which took 35,162 domestic flights year; the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which took 24,003 administrative flights; and the Home Office, which took 14,372 flights.

The government has until the end of the 2019-20 financial year to reach their targets.

The news has attracted criticism from climate campaigners, who have called on the government to do more to invest more in public transport.

But a government spokesperson said it remained “committed” to tackling climate change.

The findings came after sacked climate adviser Claire O'Neill accused Boris Johnson of a “failure of leadership” over climate change ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The revelations have drawn anger from environmental groups.

Aaron Kiely from Friends of the Earth said the figures showed “how deep the government’s failure to create an efficient public transport network goes”.

He told PoliticsHome: “We live in a world where flying is artificially cheap – because of generous tax breaks gifted to airlines – while cleaner options such as trains and buses get more expensive each year.

“This imbalance has gone unchanged for far too long and if the Government itself can’t justify paying for expensive train tickets it clearly needs to step in.”

Meanwhile Leo Murray, co-director of climate campaign group Possible said: “Domestic flights are the fastest way to fry the planet, with even economy class travel doing at least six times as much damage to the climate as an equivalent train journey.

“Walking the talk is vital to the credibility of messengers on environmental issues, so seeing government officials and politicians flouting their own targets and flying around our small island with impunity undermines the zero carbon mission at the critical level of social norms.”

Responding to the figures, a government spokesperson: "Tackling climate change and its impact on our environment is both a national and international priority, and the UK is already leading the fight against it by delivering on our world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

"We are committed to getting value for money for the taxpayer by minimising costs and ensuring we use the greenest means of travel wherever possible."

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