Cutting air passenger duty to encourage international flights to and from Scotland is likely to lead to a rise in damaging CO2 emissions, Scotland's climate change minister admitted today to Patrick Harvie MSP.

Eighteen months ago the First Minister told Mr Harvie that the Scottish Government would put forward an environmental impact of its policy of scrapping the duty but until today no figure has been presented.

Today during a Topical Question at Holyrood on the latest UN report on climate change Mr Harvie was told by minister Paul Wheelhouse that an internal figure he has seen suggests cutting duty would cause emissions to rise.

The minister also conceeded that if emissions from international aviation cause Scotland's carbon footprint to grow, other sectors of the economy will have to provide deeper emissions cuts to compensate.

Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and transport spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said:

"The Scottish Government should be stepping up to take responsibility for the failure to meet the first two annual climate targets but instead it is displaying astonishing recklessness. After eighteen months we finally get an admission that cutting taxes for the wealthy aviation industry is not a good idea if we're serious about reducing our climate change impacts.

"Airlines don’t pay a penny of tax on fuel and they are failing to pay for the pollution they create. Making life easier for big business is not a reason to vote Yes; designing a tax system that makes highly profitable businesses pay for their pollution is.”


First Minister's Questions, 13 September 2012:

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): In promoting this policy of cutting air passenger duty to stimulate more flights, the minister Fergus Ewing and VisitScotland admitted at this week’s meeting of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee that they had not even bothered to explore the policy’s compatibility with legally binding climate change targets. Will the First Minister agree to do what Fergus Ewing refused to do and write to the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change, asking it to investigate the policy’s impacts on climate change before he promotes it further?

The First Minister: It is our responsibility to put forward an estimate in that respect and we will do so. However, although I accept Patrick Harvie’s position that we should build an evidential base for what is, to me, an apparently commonsense proposition, I suggest that in many cases having a direct flight between two destinations can be more environmentally efficient than taking two flights to get to the same destination. I would have thought that there was a commonsense argument for direct flights in environmental, convenience, economic and business terms but, as I said, I accept that we should build an evidential base for our case. That is our responsibility and that is what we will do.