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France moves to combat climate change by making flights more expensive

Air France said it opposed the "ecotax," claiming it would present an additional cost of about $67 million a year. (Christophe Ena/AP)

With a new tax announced Tuesday, France became the latest European country to take direct aim at one source of man-made carbon dioxide emissions: air travel.

Transport Minister Élisabeth Borne said a news conference that an “ecotax” on flights departing from France would be introduced next year.

It would amount to between 1.50 euros ($1.70) and 18 euros ($20) per flight, Borne said, and is expected to raise more than 180 million euros. That money would then be reinvested in eco-friendly transport, such as rail networks.

Borne said this reallocation of funds could be “part of the answer to the climate challenge.”

The move comes amid growing concern in many parts of the world about the effect of air travel on climate change. In Sweden, activists have started a movement called “flygskam,” or “flight shame,” that aims to push people to chose alternative modes of travel.

Europe’s ‘flight shame’ movement doesn’t stand a chance in the U.S.

In the United States, the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan supported by high-profile Democrats to move to zero emissions within 10 years, calls for the reorganization of America’s transportation network with high-speed rail.

With the tax on air travel, France joins an expanding club of European nations that have imposed taxes on flights with the aim of addressing climate change.

Britain’s Air Passenger Duty tax was introduced in 1994, in part to offset air travel’s effects on climate; last year, the tax was raised so the highest bracket could be as much as £450 ($560). A number of other nations have enacted similar laws recently, including Sweden, which implemented its law last year.

The Dutch government is lobbying the European Union to introduce a continent-wide tax on aviation that would prevent airlines from changing their routes to avoid taxes.

“People also feel that in the end, we have to collect taxes,” State Secretary for Finance Menno Snel said in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this year. “If you can choose between taxing the income of people or pollution and CO2, it makes more sense to try and find a tax base on the second than on the first.”

France has also said it would seek further Europe-wide measures involving the air travel industry, including pushing to end tax exemptions for jet fuel.

Industry groups have argued that air travel accounts for just 2 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions and say that taxes are not an effective solution to the problem.

However, activists say the falling cost of air travel and the slow pace of technological advances indicate the problems caused by climate change are likely to worsen unless major changes are made.

In a statement released Tuesday, Air France said it opposed the ecotax, which it said would present an additional cost of about 60 million euros ($67 million) a year.

But a tax on flights appears to be less politically dangerous for President Emmanuel Macron’s government than a previously proposed carbon tax on diesel fuel, which is used by many French automobile drivers.

The carbon tax proposal led to huge protests by the “yellow vest” movement, causing millions of dollars in damage across France. The government later said it would suspend the plan.

“No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation,” Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said in December.