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New CCC advice offers no wriggle-room on aviation emissions

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A new report from the Committee on Climate Change, published today, on how to deliver the ambitious climate targets agreed in Paris in 2015 identifies aviation as a ‘hard to treat’ sector and continues to caution against unlimited passenger growth.

The Government’s priority, CCC advises, should be to act ‘with urgency’ to close the policy gap for achieving existing climate commitment. The Climate Change Act requires the UK to cut total emissions by 80% of their 1990 levels by 2050 in order to limit the risk of exceeding 2 degrees of warming. Today’s report reiterates the CCC’s advice that new policy is required to ensure that UK aviation emissions are limited to around 2005 levels by 2050 (37.5Mt), implying no more than a 60% increase in passenger demand. The most recent Government forecasts predicted demand growth of 93% even on the assumption that aviation was exposed to carbon pricing and that no new runways were approved. The Airports Commission, in its analysis of possible airport expansion in the South East, predicted that emissions would increase further if a new runway was built, but offered no recommendations for how emissions and passenger growth could be limited to a sustainable level if expansion goes ahead.

Meeting the challenging goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the CCC’s new report says, will require emissions to fall to ‘net zero’ some time between 2050 and 2070. Since it will be impossible to eliminate CO2 emissions from sectors such as agriculture and aviation this will require significant deployment of carbon sinks and negative emissions technologies. But measures such as direct air capture and storage, and the development of carbon-storing materials will be challenging to deliver, and finding ways to reduce residual emissions from aviation, agriculture and industry is, the CCC advises, a priority. These measures could include, the report suggests, shifting demand to lower-emissions alternatives such as virtual conferencing in place of international travel.

The CCC remains cautious in its view of the potential for biofuel to deliver CO2 mitigation for aviation in the short to medium term. Given the likely ongoing scarcity of sustainable biomass, the report indicates, this should be used as efficiently as possible, with preference given to the use of wood in construction and of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage rather than to create biofuel for aviation. Nevertheless ‘substantial biofuel use in aircraft’ is cited as one of the few available options for bringing ‘hard to treat’ sectors in line with the net zero target beyond 2050. AEF recently published comment on anticipated proposals for policy incentives for aviation biofuel.

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