Ministers and civil servants took nearly 107,000 domestic flights in Britain in just one year despite a drive to reduce carbon emissions, reveals a new official report on “greening government”.
The environmental audit reveals 22 Whitehall departments and government agencies took 106,824 internal flights in the year to 31 March 2020, an average of 293 flights a day.
Some departments have increased the number of flights they take across the country compared with a decade ago, including the Department for International Development (DfID); the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO, as it was until September 2020, when it became the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office); and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The figures are published as Boris Johnson came under fire last week for flying by private jet from the Cop26 summit in Glasgow to London. New departmental guidelines will now “require lower carbon options to be considered first as an alternative to each planned flight”.
Norman Baker, a former transport minister and an adviser at the Campaign for Better Transport charity, said: “The government is becoming increasingly good at lecturing other people while doing the opposite itself. There is no excuse for this number of internal flights.”
The Campaign for Better Transport has called for a ban on all UK domestic flights where the equivalent journey by rail can be completed in under five hours. It says cheap domestic flights are a “climate disaster” and can generate about seven times more greenhouse emissions than the equivalent rail journey.
The Greening Government annual report for the year to 31 March 2020 says that the government has cut the number of domestic flights taken by 38% since 2009/10, but 12 departments missed their targets.
The number of domestic flights taken by the DfID rose from 3,610 in 2009/10 to 4,098 in 2019/20; the number taken by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) rose from 1,517 to 2,055 over the same period; the number taken by the FCO rose from 735 to 791; and by the DCMS, from 169 to 303.
The government published new “greening government commitments” alongside its annual report on departmental performance. It wants departments to reduce emissions from domestic flights by 30% by 2025 from a 2017/18 baseline, and to start reporting the distance travelled by international flights.
The new figures have been published after the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced in his autumn budget that he was halving air passenger duty to £6.50 from April 2023. Labour said the cut was “astonishing” and would be cheered by bankers on short-haul flights “sipping champagne”.
A government spokesperson said: “Officials are required to make domestic and international trips to conduct government business. We are setting the world’s most ambitious climate change target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels.”
A spokesperson for the Office for National Statistics said: “The ONS has successfully reduced its carbon emissions by 58% over the past five years and we’re on course to achieve another 38% by 2025. Air travel is occasionally the only practical option for a UK-wide organisation, but we aim nevertheless to reduce it substantially.”