Fri, 8 December 2023

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Next steps for nature: Implementing Biodiversity Net Gain Partner content
The future of marine power: are we heading for collision or collaboration? Partner content
By Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
COP28 – Solar’s chance to shine Partner content
By Lightsource bp
Put the pedal to the metal for the transition to electric vehicles Partner content
By Transport & Environment
Press releases

EXCL Ministers branded 'arrogant' as departments miss own climate change targets to cut flights

4 min read

More than half of all Whitehall departments are failing their own targets to cut the number of flights they use, PoliticsHome can reveal.

Since 2016, departments have been required to reduce the number of domestic flights taken by staff and ministers as part of the 'Greening Government' initiative.

This is because shorter flights have a much greater environmental impact per person than long-haul flights, as the take-off and landing stages of a flight are the most inefficient.

But fresh analysis of government figures by PoliticsHome shows that out of the 16 departments set the targets, just six are on track to reduce flights by at least 30% from the 2009/2010 baseline.

Three departments have even seen an overall increase in flights, with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport almost doubling its use of air travel over the last decade.

Most departments are actually moving further from hitting their target, with 11 out of 16 experiencing an increase in flights between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

The Department for Exiting the European Union, which was created after the targets were set, saw the biggest year-on-year increase with a 105% rise in flight numbers. 

The worst offenders in terms of number of flights last year were HMRC, which took 35,162 domestic flights year; the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which took 24,003 administrative flights; and the Home Office, which took 14,372 flights.

The Government has until the end of the 2019/2020 financial year to reach their targets.

The news has attracted criticism from MPs and climate campaigners, who have called on the Government to do more to invest more in public transport.

But a Government spokesperson said it remained “committed” to tackling climate change. 

The findings come on the morning sacked climate adviser Claire O'Neill accused Boris Johnson of a “failure of leadership” over climate change ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. 


Reacting to the analysis, Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard called on the Government to “do things differently”.

He told PoliticsHome: “The Government breaking their own targets, and continuing to take domestic flights instead of taking the train, demonstrates an incredibly arrogant attitude to carbon emissions. 

“With the UK hosting the UN’s global conference on carbon reduction later this year, ministers should be showing that they understand the seriousness of the climate crisis in their behaviour as well as their words."

Meanwhile SNP Environment Spokesperson Deidre Brock branded the figures “shocking”.

She said: “At a time when most of the world has recognised a climate emergency the UK Government is failing to do anything to address its own use of domestic flights.  

“It’s time the UK Government faced up to its responsibilities and started getting the train.  

“There’s no excuse for ministers and officials from government departments taking these short flights and no excuse for the damage they’re doing to this planet.”

The revelations have also drawn anger from environmental groups.

Aaron Kiely from Friends of the Earth said the figures showed “how deep the government’s failure to create an efficient public transport network goes”.

He told this site: “We live in a world where flying is artificially cheap – because of generous tax breaks gifted to airlines – while cleaner options such as trains and buses get more expensive each year. 

“This imbalance has gone unchanged for far too long and if the Government itself can’t justify paying for expensive train tickets it clearly needs to step in.”

Meanwhile Leo Murray, co-director of climate campaign group Possible said: “Domestic flights are the fastest way to fry the planet, with even economy class travel doing at least six times as much damage to the climate as an equivalent train journey.”

“Walking the talk is vital to the credibility of messengers on environmental issues, so seeing government officials and politicians flouting their own targets and flying around our small island with impunity undermines the zero carbon mission at the critical level of social norms.”

Responding to the figures, a Government spokesperson: "Tackling climate change and its impact on our environment is both a national and international priority, and the UK is already leading the fight against it by delivering on our world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

"We are committed to getting value for money for the taxpayer by minimising costs and ensuring we use the greenest means of travel wherever possible."

PoliticsHome Newsletters

PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Eleanor Langford - Who Is Going On Strike And When In February?