Last month, the Minister of Finance of Germany Olaf Scholz has confirmed the government's plan to increase taxes for air-travels from April 2020. This action is considered to be a part of German climate-change-coping plan, which aims to make the country carbon-neutral by the year 2050. While the headlines sound very uplifting, the actual change seems to be not as bright as we might think.
The proposal touches all kinds of flights, domestic or international and almost doubles the amount of taxes for some distances. Current tax for what is considered to be domestic flights - or any kind of flight up to 2500 km, - are taxed in the amount of 7.5 EUR, which will turn into 13.03 EUR after the changes. Flights from 2500 to 6000 km will increase up to 33.01 EUR from the current 23.43 EUR. Finally, long-distance flights will face an increase in taxes from 42.18 EUR to 59.43 EUR. By this step, the government aims to collect around 740 million EUR and spend them to make train tickets in Germany cheaper. So, what's not cool about it?
First of all, the representatives of the airlines are, obviously, not happy about it. Besides the rhetorics on economical benefit, however, there is a rational point: the tax would prevent airlines from investment in greener technologies and renovation of air fleet towards more eco-friendly solutions. The others believe that this package of taxes is barely enough - its impact on the environment won't be significant and we need to seek better solutions.
But the most controversial part, in my humble opinion, hides in the amount of taxes for different kinds of flights and plan of the government on cost-spending. Let's be honest: we won't be able to say "no" to trans-continental flights, or the modern global world with all its benefits will stop. Gretha Thunberg might be able to travel to the USA from Europe for 2 weeks, but this will not be affordable timewise to the majority of people who do it constantly. At the same time, such kind of travel is facing the biggest factual increase in taxation, even if it changes the final cost of the tickets insignificantly. Domestic flights, however, are facing the 75%-increase of taxes, but the factual amount is less than 6 EUR. Now, what do you think, how many people would refuse to take a plane from Cologne to Berlin only because it's gonna cost 36 EUR instead of 30?
At the same time, the plan to make Deutsche Bahn cheaper sounds nice, but the actual decrease is expected to be around 10% of the ticket costs. In case of the same trip from Cologne to Berlin, the price for the train tickets for a trip in a more than 2 weeks-advance varies from 80 to 100 EUR one way. Should I really stress, that 10%-difference doesn't change the picture that much?
The point is, that despite trans-continental flights cause more emissions due to the duration of the flight, we can't find an easy alternative for them. For the domestic flights - we do, especially in Germany, where the train system is developed and runs on green energy. But the planned increase just slightly increases the price of domestic flights. While the headlines of the newspapers scream about "75% increase in taxation", the factual difference for domestic flight is smaller than the price of Big Mac menu at McDonald's and it's very unlikely that such a change will turn many people to board ICE instead of Airbus, if it's still 3 times more expensive.
Such a situation is a source of a great struggle for young people, many of whom are concerned about climate change and would like to change their lifestyle in a more eco-friendly way. However, besides activism and readiness to accept new things, another constant attribute of youth is an empty wallet. Very few among us can always easily choose between what's better and what's cheap - we often simply don't have much of the choice. And it's a problem for me as a volunteer too - I'd love to travel more inside the country, but I can't pay a quarter of my monthly allowance for a one-way ticket.
What would change the situation? Well, just imagine the same plan, but domestic flight taxes are going to increase to 75 EUR, with the same proportion of the tax used to reduce the price of the train tickets. When ICE is going to be at least the same price as the plane, many more people would go to Hauptbahnhof than to Flughafen. But looks like it's not gonna happen any time soon, and the changes planned by the government will be neither effective nor visible.