22nd June, 2021
Today industry coalition Sustainable Aviation published interim targets for cutting aviation emissions.
To make net zero a reality we need interim targets, especially for hard to decarbonise sectors like aviation. Sustainable Aviation’s plan, however, is to allow the gross emissions from aircraft not just to rebound after the pandemic but actually to continue growing, peaking in the mid 2030s at a level that’s higher than in 2019 (a record year for UK aviation emissions, and the reference year for SA’s interim targets). The ‘net’ reductions claimed in the interim targets are delivered, at least initially, by buying offsets – paying to cut emissions in other sectors but continuing to release CO2 from planes.
The aviation industry has yet to bring to market a fuel that releases less CO2 from the tailpipe of an aircraft than fossil fuel. Airlines’ plan to use some fuel made from waste – which it’s asking the Government to subsidise – might help cut methane emissions from landfill sites, but it won’t reduce the emissions from planes. The industry is trying to label this as an ‘in sector’ emissions reduction but really, it’s just another type of offset.
Unless and until airlines start paying for and delivering carbon capture technology, the only way to avoid aviation emissions is not to fly. The Government will shortly publish its net zero aviation consultation. That will need to recognise the need to go beyond technology including measures to limit aviation demand and airport capacity. It will not be OK to allow aviation demand and emissions to grow as we come out of the pandemic in the hope that future fuels and technologies will save the day.