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Halve aviation growth plans to tackle climate change, government experts advise

24th September, 2019

The Government should reassess its airport capacity strategy in the context of making aviation emissions net zero by 2050, the CCC has told the Transport Minister Grant Shapps in a letter to the Government today.

The UK legislated in June for an economy-wide target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Today’s letter from the Government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, says that emissions from aviation and shipping can and should be formally included in this target through secondary legislation. 

Achieving net zero emissions for the sector will – the letter says – require sustained effort and ambition to deliver more efficient planes[1], the introduction of lower carbon fuels and limiting passenger growth to no more than 25% above today’s levels (292 million passengers used UK airports in 2018 according to CAA figures). The Government is planning for twice this increase, and several airports are in the process of seeking permission for growth even beyond official projections. 

Aviation is expected to be the largest emitting sector in 2050, with annual emissions around 30MtCO2 even assuming rapid technology improvements and limits on growth. These emissions will need to be balanced by measures to actively remove CO2 from the air and the Government will need to kickstart the development of technology to do this, the letter advises. But these technologies face considerable barriers in terms of delivery and can only offer a limited solution to the scale of the emissions challenge. 

Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director at the Aviation Environment Federation, said:

British people currently take more international flights than anyone else in the world[2], but there’s a growing public recognition that this feels out of step with the action we need to take on climate change, and two-thirds of Britons say they support limiting air travel to address the climate crisis[3].

The Government’s dodged the issue of aviation emissions for too long. With climate targets that are now tougher than ever, it’s time for them to look again at plans for new runways, bigger airports and more flights, and focus instead on delivering an effective plan to make the aviation sector accountable for its emissions.

It’s worth remembering that demand for aviation growth is being driven by a minority of frequent flyers. 70% of UK flights are made by just 15% of the population[4]. 


Contact: Tim Johnson // Cait Hewitt // 0203 859 9371 

Notes to editor:

[1] While aircraft are becoming more efficient, research commissioned jointly by CCC and the Government and published in December 2018 found that no electric planes are likely to be in operation on commercial routes until after 2050 – the date by which the UK needs to achieve net zero emissions 



[4] Analysis of government survey data