The Netherlands and France are leading EU efforts to introduce a tax on flying to combat climate change, but airline chiefs insist taxing aviation will divert investment from more-efficient aircraft.

EU ministers spent Thursday and Friday debating proposals for an environmental tax on aviation at a meeting in the Netherlands.

They aim to present an aviation tax plan to the new European Commission this autumn.

Menno Snel, deputy finance minister of the Netherlands, said it was “a no-brainer that the contribution of the aviation sector [to global warming] will be on the agenda” of the new EC president “in the first week”.

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An EC study released this month, ‘Taxes in the Field of Aviation and their Impact’, suggests a 10% tax be added to fares in Europe to cut aircraft emissions by reducing passenger numbers.

The finance ministers of 11 EU states, including the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, joined a Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action in April.

An EU directive from 2003 already allows European governments to agree bilaterally to tax the fuel on flights, but none do so.

The conference took place as the International Monetary Fund signalled its support for an aviation tax.

IMF head of tax policy Ruud De Mooij said: “Airline travel is nearly entirely exempt from tax despite having many externalities.

“Ending its under-taxation would level the playing field versus other modes of transport.”

However, Airlines for Europe, the group representing easyJet, Ryanair, Lufthansa, IAG, Air France-KLM and Norwegian Air, insisted investment in new aircraft and more efficient air traffic control would do more to reduce emissions.

Norwegian Air chief executive Bjorn Kjos said: “The single most important thing an airline can do to reduce its emissions is to invest in new aircraft.

“Taxes weaken airlines’ ability to further invest and also hurt consumers.”

EasyJet director for France and Italy François Bacchetta suggested: “Europe needs to focus on funding research and development to support the new technologies needed to lower emissions.”