When does air travel become too expensive?

Debate about climate protection"Flying must become more expensive overall"

Sina Fröhndrich: Whoever flies pays it: the aviation tax. For flights from Germany, depending on the distance, between seven and 40 euros are due. Too little, says Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, and suggests before the climate cabinet meeting that evening: The tax should be increased. Making flying more expensive to save CO2, is that useful? I am talking to Dieter Janecek, Member of the Green Party, whom we reach in Munich: Should flying be something for the rich in the future?

Dieter Janecek: Yes, the problem is that the polluter costs of flying are very much triggered by the rich - the climate costs. In other words, 20 percent of people around the world have only ever got on a plane, and in Germany it is those who have a lot of money who fly a lot. So the costs, as far as the environment is concerned, have to be settled with the rich, but paying, so to speak, who pays for it, we all do, namely with the climate follow-up costs.

Fröhndrich: But there are certainly families who could not afford a trip ten years ago and then always went to the North Sea or the Baltic Sea and who might want to go to the beach in Portugal.

Frequent flyers should pay more

Janecek: Yes, this possibility still exists, but one cannot assume that ... For example, in 1990 we still had a third of the number of aircraft movements in Munich as regards the number of passengers, now we have three times as many. There are a lot of cheap flights that have become very cheap, and that is simply no longer compatible with the challenge of the climate crisis. In this respect, I think it would be fair to say that flying has to become more expensive overall; it would still be best if frequent flying, i.e. those who fly a lot, became even more expensive.

And in the end you have to see that flying causes so many emissions, CO2, that we simply need a cap. So technology has to solve this, to create opportunities for flying to become more climate-friendly. If this is not the case, there will be less flown in the future, otherwise we will not get there honestly.

The Green Member of the Bundestag Dieter Janecek (dpa / Michael Kappeler)

Fröhndrich: If we stick to the higher costs again: A higher air traffic tax could punish the financially weak budget. Business is flown anyway, or where the money is, there is still flown anyway, and the money, i.e. through a higher air traffic tax, ultimately disappears in the budget.

Janecek: Yes, well, we are proposing, and I believe that the Federal Environment Minister will do the same, that income from CO2 taxation should go back to the citizen immediately, preferably at the beginning of the year. That means he gets a budget from the income, especially from the rich people who fly a lot, who have thicker cars, who heat more, which then go to the state budget - that should go back to the citizens immediately, so there is also a justice effect. So of course we have to keep an eye on the families, and when it comes to flying, you always have to see that it's not a mass phenomenon that people fly to Mallorca three times a month or something. This is something very few can afford, and they are currently paying very little in the environmental posts.

So we have a paradox. We have the paradox that rich people have very, very large environmental costs, but they do not pay for them.

Fröhndrich: But a family with an average income, who may not be considered rich now, may say in the future, not even one flight a year, that might not be possible. You would meet them.

Janecek: That is currently not the case with the amounts of pricing that we are talking about. We are now talking about ten euros, 15 euros in the first step.

"Rich people can always buy themselves out in the end"

Fröhndrich: When we talk about carbon pricing.

Janecek: About the CO2 pricing, exactly.

Fröhndrich: But if the goal - perhaps also through a higher air traffic tax - were to make flying significantly more expensive overall, to make it noticeably more expensive. How do you intend to protect such families? In the end, they cannot be punished, so that in case of doubt their children may not be able to see certain parts of the world. Education has come to an end.

Janecek: Yes that's right. If you can honestly see it, if flying weren't harmful to the climate, then you'd almost have to promote it, because of course it also promotes connection between peoples, education, etc., and that is certainly good for many to see something different from time to time of the world.

One alternative, of course, is that we also have opportunities in Europe. We can also strengthen European rail traffic and make it cheaper, we could also ensure that, for example, not only children under 14, but also under 18 can travel for free on the train, in other words to create concentration.

On the other hand, the challenges posed by the climate crisis are so great that we cannot say that it has to remain favorable for everyone now. But you're right, the problem is, the rich can always buy their way out in the end, so to speak.

And that's why I definitely demand, for example, that companies ... The Bundestag also says, for example, that routes that can be traveled by train in four hours will no longer be reimbursed at all, that is, they will only be taken by train and not by plane. So that's where you have to start too. And then the question is whether, in the end, there will also be a need for CO2 budgets per household in the future - this is what some associations demand, such as the "CO2 Abgabe" association, which ultimately says that every household gets a budget for CO2, that he can then use, and when he gets over it, he has to pay significantly more. That would then increase the aspect of justice.

Make money by not flying

Fröhndrich: And what you also proposed is to limit domestic air traffic; three return flights per year is also an encroachment on freedom of movement.

Janecek: Yes, that was about international air traffic. In principle, I would avoid domestic air traffic as much as possible because it is avoidable, with very few exceptions. The freedom of the individual to damage the climate in such a way that we all then live in a future where we have none of it, it just isn't there, we can't afford it, I think. In the end, we need a contract between all of us that also says that flying will continue to exist in the future - there are also promises made by the aviation industry to make flying more climate-friendly, perhaps with hydrogen, etc.

However, to be honest, these technologies will not be available on a large scale for at least 30 to 50 years. So we can't say we don't care that air traffic is increasing by five percent every year. And that is only possible through prices, that is through better rail conditions, cheaper railways, and perhaps to a certain extent that we think that people who fly a lot can also pay significantly more.

Fröhndrich: Does that mean, instead of a frequent flyer program with bonus miles, rather negative points that are reflected in the price?

Janecek: You could even go so far as to say that people who fly very little or not fly at all even benefit from it and that those who fly a lot receive certificates, so to speak, and can earn money from them. So these models are under discussion, for some they are still a long way off, but if you want to solve the problem of justice, namely that people who have a lot of money can take a lot out of them, then you have to think about such models.

Fröhndrich: If we are talking about fewer domestic flights and in the end there might actually be a decision at some point to allow fewer domestic flights, then it could also be that some regional airports are no longer worthwhile. Can we afford that in economically weak regions?

Janecek: I think it's not primarily about air traffic, which now concerns the private sector, it is about the question of whether business people and companies are well connected, so to speak, i.e. freight traffic et cetera. So that is a question of whether we want to afford to have decentralized airports at subsidized costs that are not self-sufficient, I would say no, we no longer need that in the long term. But I do believe that there will be airports in the future, but not in every region.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.