Skip to content

New report finds Government’s ‘jet zero’ techno-optimism puts emissions targets at risk

16th May, 2022

  • New report from Element Energy (EE) notes significant risks in the Government’s ‘Jet Zero’ strategy, including relying too heavily on technological solutions, sustainable aviation fuels and improved system efficiencies, many of which are not yet ready to deploy

  • EE calculates that the sector will need to cut its emissions faster to hit reduction targets, especially in the 2030s

  • It concludes that aviation demand reduction is required to hit economy-wide emission reduction targets, including urgently reviewing airport expansion policy in line with advice from the Climate Change Committee

A new report from Element Energy (EE), commissioned by the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF), has concluded that aviation demand reduction is required to hit economy-wide emission targets. Government’s ‘Jet Zero’ plans overestimate the likely improvements in operations, technology and alternative fuels and rely on uncertain solutions, it finds.

Significant risks include relying on improved system efficiencies, assuming high sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) uptake levels, a misleading portrayal of SAF emissions abatements and failing to account for the non-CO2 impacts of aviation. While new technologies and fuels will be necessary, they are unlikely to be developed at the speed and scale needed to deliver net zero aviation without reductions in demand being delivered in parallel.

The report concludes that a halt to airport capacity growth and demand reduction measures pose a far less risky approach  to hitting net zero aviation by 2050 and the 78% economy-wide emissions cut to which the Government has committed by  2035. EE criticises the trajectory of the Government’s preferred scenario for delivering ‘Jet Zero’, and argues for an alternative approach that requires the sector to make deeper cuts to its emissions in the near-term to help reduce risk and to minimise the total amount of CO2 emitted between now and 2050.  

The latest Department for Transport consultation on Jet Zero draws on work by Element Energy that suggests that engineered greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) could be a cost effective method in the future for tackling remaining CO2 emissions. However, EE’s work for AEF highlights the risks of relying on GGRs and cautions that they “should only be deployed once both technological and behaviour change options to reduce emissions have been exhausted”.

The report also argues that the “enormous effort and cost” that the Government assumes will be paid to deliver carbon capture and storage “is largely to support the status quo in aviation and agriculture”.

Cait Hewitt, Policy Director at AEF, said: 

“The Government’s plan is to sit back and allow both airports and emissions to grow in the short term while hoping for future technologies and fuels to save the day.

“This new report gives a damning appraisal of the level of risk in every aspect of the current approach to aviation emissions and highlights the need for action now, including ruling out airport expansion and limiting demand, to ensure aviation makes a fair contribution to cutting emissions by 2035 and is on a pathway to net zero by 2050.”

Demand reduction measures, which the report notes are also necessary for a pathway to fair decarbonisation, could also include reducing passenger demand through carbon pricing, an air miles or frequent flyer levy, fuel duty, VAT or reforms to Air Passenger Duty.

For the full report, entitled The Role of Aviation Demand Reduction in UK Decarbonisation, including supporting data, please click here.

AEF would like to thank the Network for Social Change and the Aviation Environment Trust for making it possible to commission this report.