The behavioural, welfare and environmental impacts of air travel reductions during and beyond COVID-19

This paper aims, first, to estimate the short-run behavioural, social and environmental impacts of air travel reductions due to COVID-19, and, second, to explore the potential for different policy measures to curb demand and reduce carbon dioxide emissions beyond the lifetime of the pandemic with minimal impacts on welfare. Focusing on passenger air travel in the UK, the analysis estimates emissions from the aviation sector for the whole of 2020 will be 41.5 per cent lower than the level of that would have occurred had the COVID-19 pandemic not happened. The authors estimate that this fall in emissions associated with reduced air travel will lead to a relatively small social welfare cost (potentially as low as 9 per cent relative to a situation without COVID-19 – equivalent to a loss of £155 per person). However, the drastic measures associated with the lockdown clearly cannot be used as a long-run strategy to reduce emissions, both for reasons of civil liberty and because the social welfare impacts disproportionately harm people on lower incomes.