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CCC progress report to parliament critical of delays to government net zero aviation plans

28th June, 2021

The Government’s independent climate advisor, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), has published its annual assessment of the UK’s progress in reducing emissions towards net zero by 2050, with specific comment on how each government department is addressing the challenges.

The report identifies major gaps in policy and is critical of delays to the publishing of key government plans and strategies, including the long-awaited Transport Decarbonisation Plan and the Net Zero Aviation Strategy. The Committee praises the Government’s commitment to include emissions from international aviation and shipping (IAS) in UK climate legislation, a world-first, but stresses that the policies needed to achieve this ambition have yet to be published. 

What has the CCC recommended in its report?

1. An aviation decarbonisation pathway to inform demand management and airport capacity policies. The current absence of measures, combined with plans that actually drive growth (proposed cuts to Air Passenger Duty; airport expansions), would result in higher annual emissions of 6.4 MtCO2e relative to the CCC’s pathway for aviation by 2030.

AEF echoes these concerns. The UK aviation industry recently set out its own interim climate targets. Industry’s targets rely heavily on offsetting, whilst the sector’s gross emissions continue to rise until the mid 2030s. In the absence of adequate technologies to directly reduce aviation’s emissions, measures to limit aviation demand and airport capacity will be necessary to reduce emissions.  

2. The Government’s overdue Net Zero Aviation Strategy should include an assessment of the UK’s airport capacity strategy and a mechanism for aviation demand management. The CCC repeats its Sixth Carbon Budget advice that there should be no net additional airport capacity as sufficient capacity already exists to meet the level of demand deemed compatible with a pathway to net zero. The Government has not made commitments to review airport capacity nor stated a clear position on this issue, it argues. The uncertainty today about the pace of development of future technologies makes it difficult to justify capacity expansion on the basis that the industry may outperform the CCC’s emission trajectory. It also recommends that the Government puts in place an airport capacity strategy linked to a demand management framework ‘to assess and, if required, control sector GHG emissions and non-CO2 effects’.

The report also highlights that the industry will need to rely on negative emissions to meet net zero by 2050, yet there is currently no price signal for GHG removals in the UK. Similarly, the CCC notes a lack of larger-scale deployment support and policy frameworks specifically for sustainable aviation fuel and GHG removals.

AEF supports the CCC advice on no net increase in airport capacity. We recently called on Government to put a halt to airport expansions until a plan for the sector is in place which acknowledges and plans for the new carbon constraints the Government has committed to impose.

3. The Net Zero Aviation Strategy should set ‘appropriate price incentives’. ‘Reforming aviation taxation, alongside wider reform of carbon pricing, will be critical to achieving Net Zero’, states the report. ‘Government’s current proposals for air passenger duty (APD) reform are largely going in the wrong direction’, it adds. The report recommends incentivising lower-carbon travel through higher taxes on aviation (where there is an alternative to flying), as well as ‘reducing the cost and improving the service for surface transport, especially rail’. It also recommends harnessing positive outcomes of the pandemic, such as a reduction in business travel, through taxation.

The CCC’s advice on taxation, mirrors AEF’s thinking on many key aspects. In response to a recent consultation on aviation tax reform, which focused primarily on the Government’s proposal to cut APD rates on domestic routes, AEF expressed opposition to the proposal, concluding that the Government should instead consider options for carbon charging in addition to existing APD charges.