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CCC Net Zero Report: We’ll still be flying in 2050, but Government can no longer ignore aviation emissions in its climate policies

The UK should amend its legislation to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the CCC has advised, and this target should include the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions, and be met through domestic action rather than international offset credits. This will require immediate steps from Government, industry and the public. Challenges that have not yet been confronted – such as aviation and shipping emissions – must now be addressed, the committee says. 

To reinforce the importance of tackling emissions from all sectors, CCC has also recommended that international aviation emissions should be formally included in carbon budgets at the next available opportunity, beginning with the sixth budget period (2033-37), on which the CCC will advise next year. Currently under the Act, the 5-yearly carbon budgets are adjusted to take account of international aviation emissions but no formal requirement is put on the aviation sector to limit its emissions.

Aviation will be emitting more CO2 than any other sector by 2050, CCC anticipates

The CCC’s Further Ambition scenario, setting out a pathway to net zero GHGs, anticipates that the aviation sector will still be emitting 31MtCO2 in 2050. These emissions would need to be removed from the atmosphere through measures such as ‘direct air capture’ or BECCS, to be paid for by the aviation industry. While significant tree planting is required for emissions removal, the aviation sector should not rely on afforestation to remove its emissions, cautions CCC, given the limited scope that this offers for long term emissions removals at the required scale.

The Government currently predicts aviation emissions of over 40 Mt by 2050. Limiting them to 31 Mt will require a combination of demand constraint to limit passenger numbers to no more than a 60% increase on 2005 levels (for example through ‘policies to manage the use of airport capacity’), biofuels contributing 10% of the sector’s fuel needs, and more efficient aircraft that will improve the overall efficiency of the fleet by around 1.4% per annum for the next few decades, CCC advises. These figures are – in our view – very much at the speculative end of government and industry forecasts for the potential for technological improvements. 

AEF’s Deputy Director Cait Hewitt, said 

The CCC’s recommendations set out a world-leading pathway for the UK to stop contributing to climate change in the future. It’s essential that Government recognises the need for commitments that cover all sectors, including aviation, and that don’t rely on international offsets.
Reducing aviation emissions to 31MtCO2 by 2050, 25% less than the level currently predicted by the Department for Transport even after accounting for more sustainable fuels and likely technological improvements, will be extremely challenging. While technological improvements will be vital, we also need to think seriously about how to manage growth in the future, starting with saying no to unsustainable airport expansions.

The Government’s plans for expansion at Heathrow, already the UK’s largest single source of carbon emissions, look increasingly difficult to justify. While yesterday’s court judgement rejected the climate challenges to the Government’s plans, the court made clear that an eventual decision on Heathrow’s third runway (expected around 2022) will need to be made in relation to the climate legislation and policy in force at the time. Given the growing public and political sense of a climate emergency, that legislation is very likely to put increasing pressure on the aviation sector.

—ENDS—

Contact: Tim Johnson tim@aef.org.uk // Cait Hewitt cait@aef.org.uk // 0203 859 9371 (Out of office hours 07710 381742)

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