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AEF discusses how aviation strategy can effectively tackle climate change

28th September, 2018

The Government has promised that by the end of this year it will have laid out proposals to address one of the key policy gaps left by the Heathrow NPS, namely how UK plans to square its growth plans for aviation with its commitments on climate change.

In the second of our discussion papers on the key issues we want to see addressed by the Aviation Strategy Green Paper, AEF sets out – in some detail – why the current set of UK, regional and international policies fall short, why the Government’s carbon forecasts for aviation underplay the scale of the action needed, and just how big the challenge of fitting aviation into a net zero future is going to be.

The strategy should, our paper argues:

Show as much ambition on climate change as on safety, technology and customer service

The Government has said it wants to be a world leader in service and safety. We want to see the same commitment on climate change.

Make an unambiguous commitment to limit aviation emissions to 37.5 Mt by 2050 as a maximum level

The Committee on Climate Change, the official body created to hold the Government to account on delivery of UK climate legislation, has always said that the UK’s share of international aviation emissions should be no higher than 37.5 Mt by 2050 and this has been assumed in all carbon budgets to date. But the Government has never set out a plan to deliver this target, and its own forecasts consistently predict it won’t be met.

Map out a policy plan for ensuring that emissions do not exceed this level

Modelling conducted alongside the NPS on Heathrow expansion suggested that the target ‘could’ perhaps be met through incentivising more biofuels, making the manoeuvring of aircraft on the ground more efficient, and increasing the cost of carbon. But no commitments have yet been made to any of these measures (and none would be straightforward to deliver).

Consider the implications of the Paris Agreement for domestic aviation policy

While limiting aviation emissions in line with current UK climate legislation will be tough, the scale of the challenge is probably about to go up a notch. In 2015 the UK and almost every other state in the world committed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees. This will require us to achieve net zero emissions in the coming decades. The implications for aviation need urgent attention, given the sector has no near-term decarbonisation options.

Set out a clear UK position in relation to international efforts

The UN’s aviation body has agreed a scheme for offsetting all emissions from international flights from 2020, but without significant improvements it’s unlikely to deliver anything close to the scale of carbon mitigation needed to deliver the Paris Agreement. The UK Government should set out its own views in this.

Propose policies to address aviation’s non-CO2 emissions

It’s been known for many years that aviation’s impact on global warming is probably around twice that of CO2 alone, but no policy measures have ever been put in place to tackle these additional impacts. We need to move on from the impasse on this issue.