Passengers could have a carbon offsetting charge automatically added to the cost of airline tickets under plans being considered by ministers aimed at cutting emissions.
Customers could still choose not to pay the levy but would be required to “opt out”, under the proposals outlined by the Department for Transport (DfT).
A number of airlines already offer a tick-box or “opt-in” model – giving customers the chance to pay for schemes to offset the carbon impact of their journey through measures such as tree-planting or solar panel installation – but take-up of this has been limited.
The DfT proposals will look at how to maximise this “particularly from specific groups such as business travellers”.
It said: “One way to increase uptake could be to follow an opt-out rather than opt-in model, under which the cost of offsetting carbon emissions would be automatically included for consumers, unless they selected not to pay to offset their emissions.”
The new plans could see just under £30 added to a flight between London and New York, falling to half that for the most fuel-efficient airlines, according to The Times, which first reported them.
A journey between London and Madrid could rise by about £5, it added.
Similar measures could also be applied to coaches, trains and ferries.
They were outlined in a “call for evidence” published last week by the DfT with little fanfare.
The paper is looking at how to make it easier for consumers to pay to reduce their carbon footprint when travelling, as well as whether transport operators should provide information on emissions.
It added that providing information on the comparative level of emissions on different types of journey “could help drive consumer choices towards less polluting options”.
The call for evidence comes after the UK committed to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050.
Transport accounted for about a third of UK carbon dioxide emissions in 2018.
Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, said: “Climate change affects every one of us and we are committed to ensuring that transport plays its part in delivering net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“An offsetting scheme could help inform travellers about how much carbon their journey produces and provide the opportunity to fund schemes, like tree planting, to compensate for those emissions.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, said: “UK airlines are committed to decarbonising aviation and are working with government to continue progress through the introduction of new greener technologies, including more efficient aircraft and engines, sustainable aviation fuels and vital airspace modernisation.
“As a global sector, international carbon offsetting has a critical role to play in enabling aviation to reach our targets, and UK airlines are participating in the global carbon offsetting scheme – CORSIA [Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation] – which will deliver carbon neutral global aviation growth from 2020.”
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