Reducing aviation emissions in the tertiary education and research sector: Oxford’s Flight Levy

The University of Oxford’s Flight Levy with Joanne Murraybrown

For the fifth and final instalment of our Reducing Aviation Emissions blog series, we have a technical piece by Joanne Murraybrown, Sustainability Strategy Project Manager at the University of Oxford. Joanne and her colleagues have been responsible for implementing the University’s Flight Levy where business travel is charged a levy of £30 per tonne of carbon emitted. This policy is leading the sector in this area, so we decided to ask Joanne to give an update on how the implementation is going. It is hoped that others might take inspiration in this area of internally taxing flights.


The background:

The University of Oxford has successfully implemented a flight levy which contributes to funding carbon reduction and biodiversity projects around the University. This blog is about what we have learned about good governance, automation and the importance of data.

The University of Oxford’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy was approved by Oxford University Council in March 2021 with two targets – biodiversity net gain and net zero carbon – and ten priorities, one of which is international travel.

Each priority has a headline and commitments to achieve that priority. The headline for international travel is to ‘reduce aviation emissions from University business travel and international student travel and offset the balance of emissions.’

The commitments are:

  • Agree the extent of University staff and student flights to be calculated and report on these emissions annually.
  • Develop and implement a Travel Policy which incorporates a Travel Hierarchy for all domestic and international travel for staff and students as follows:
    • Avoid travel;
    • Reduce travel demand to and from the University;
    • Travel without flying;
    • Fly when there are no alternatives and offset these emissions through the Oxford Sustainability Fund.
  • Roll out a large-scale engagement programme to encourage use of the Travel Policy across departments.
  • Set a target to reduce flights.
  • Levy a sustainability charge on flights on University business to contribute to the Oxford Sustainability Fund.
  • Offset emissions from all business and international student flights, starting from the 2034/35 financial year.

After the strategy was approved, our team in Estates developed the Travel Policy. After consulting on a draft with the divisions, the Travel Policy went through the governance process as a follow-on from the Sustainability Strategy which had laid the groundwork and paved the way. Because of this, the Travel Policy was approved relatively quickly.

The Travel Policy contains a travel hierarchy, flight reduction target and flight levy which work together. The flight levy without a target would mean departments could pay the levy without having to also consider reducing their emissions. The flight levy was proposed with three price options £30/£50/£70 tCO2e, with our team recommending £30 while acknowledging that a more realistic carbon price was £50-70. This introduced the concept without unduly burdening departments already struggling with tighter budgets, higher energy prices and increasing financial pressures.

Overlapping development of the Travel Policy, we worked with our preferred provider to determine how we could:

  1. Implement a flight levy;
  2. What needed to be contained in the monthly report they would send;
  3. How they could calculate the flight levy on each flight;
  4. Messaging on the flight levy at the time of booking, and
  5. Whether this could be charged at the time of booking or separately.

After discussions with our preferred provider, it was agreed that the flight levy would have to be separately charged. We trialled a process of charging with a handful of University departments. Expenses claims went online in time for implementation of the flight levy. Monthly reporting formats were also agreed with two other contracted travel providers and for e-expenses. The Travel Policy, approved in May 2022 for implementation from 1 August 2022, applies to the University only and not to the colleges because they are separate legal entities. The policy makes provision for review of the flight levy every two years, which will take place towards the end of 2024.

As the Environmental Sustainability team, we were keen to get the Travel Policy and flight levy in place in time for the post-covid resumption of travel to gather data and have impact at the point of increasing travel.

Lessons learned:


  • We started to gather data at a critical point as travel was starting to resume post-pandemic;
  • We started to generate income for the Oxford Sustainability Fund for implementing the strategy;
  • Setting the flight levy at the lowest proposed level minimised the financial strain on departments and allowed departments and individuals to get used to the flight levy while we developed and improved processes.

Disadvantages of the process:

  • Reduced time for wider consultation and communications before implementation;
  • Reduced time to develop a system for processing flight levies meant having to develop the process on the go;
  • Setting the levy at the lowest proposed levy reduced the income generated.

For any institution considering implementing a flight levy we would encourage consolidation of suppliers and limiting booking travel outside of preferred suppliers for ease of identifying flights and levying a charge. For recovery of the flight levy an internal recharge is recommended. However, any Travel Policy should have the flexibility of exceptions and reasonable adjustments to take into account different circumstances of travel.

Where are we now?

We started with a manual process and have improved automation. We analysed the data, established a more accurate baseline from the inception of the levy and developed Power BI dashboards to visualise the data. We reported to all departments on the first year of implementation on their flights and are now able to identify trends.

Key outcomes of the levy:

  • Income from the flight levy;
  • A new, more accurate baseline from the start of the levy;
  • The most comprehensive flight data to date allowing us to identify trends and to target communication;
  • Focussing attention on flying;
  • An ongoing opportunity to engage with departments on aviation emissions.


Note from EAUC:

Although in its early stages, we were keen to showcase Oxford’s methodology of implementing the flight levy. We look forward to hearing the impacts of the levy on emissions once the two-year review has been completed. We understand this is a time-intensive solution to implement and therefore are directing this guidance at larger institutions who have, or can make, staff resource available to implement such a change. If you would like to read more about flight levies internationally, the Circular 01/2020: Procedures for Offsetting the Emissions Associated with Official Air Travel from the Irish Government’s Department of Public Expenditure and Reform sets out a clear methodology for recording and costing in the emissions associated with air travel in line with Ireland’s Carbon Tax. These funds are directed to their Climate Action Fund which is then used to support domestic climate change initiatives. UCLA’s Air Travel Mitigation Fund is another example of a university successfully implementing a flight levy.

This blog is the final instalment of our 'Reducing aviation emissions in the tertiary education and research sector' series. Please visit the series landing page to navigate to EAUC's aviation briefing paper for the sector and the other blogs.

Do you have an article or opinion to share? Please email us at quoting ‘Reducing Aviation Emissions Series’.

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