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Bringing aviation into line with net zero

In April 2021, the UK Government announced it will include the UK’s share of international and shipping (IAS) emissions in its carbon budgets and its binding target to achieve net zero by 2050. This means the entire UK aviation sector will be part of the commitment to reduce economy-wide emissions by 78% below 1990 levels by 2035.  

Under the 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK Government is required to set five-year emission reduction targets, known as ‘carbon budgets’. Until now, however, successive governments have resisted including emissions from international aviation in UK carbon budgets because questions about how to account for these emissions still hadn’t been resolved.

The Government’s announcement that it will include IAS in UK climate law, for which AEF has long-campaigned, is an important step towards achieving net zero for aviation. It will help ensure that the Department for Transport’s net zero commitment across all transport modes is delivered, providing greater certainty for investors over what is expected from the aviation and shipping sectors to help drive innovation, and helping to create the right market conditions for the radical new technologies and fuels that will be needed to achieve net zero emissions in these sectors.

British passport holders take more international flights than travellers of any other nationality

In July 2021, the Government launched its consultation Jet zero: Our strategy for net zero aviation, setting out its vision for aviation reaching net zero emissions by 2050. We welcome some aspects of the proposals, including the Government’s plans to set gross and net zero emissions reduction trajectories to track progress towards 2050, with five year reviews, although we are disappointed that no proposals have been made to rein in emissions if they turn out to be higher than hoped. We are also pleased to see a proposal to decarbonise domestic flying by 2040, although it accounts for only 4% of total UK aviation emissions. In addition, we support proposals to consider mandating the provision of CO2 information to passengers, and to strengthen carbon pricing in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. These steps could have an indirect impact on demand through changing social attitudes, and higher ticket prices.

What do we want to see?

To put UK aviation on track to net zero emissions, Government ambition should include:

  • A review of airport expansion policy
  • Financial measures to limit flying demand, such as an air miles tax
  • Measures to reduce the additional climate impact caused by aviation’s non-CO2 effects
  • Measures to support staff currently employed in aviation to transition to green jobs where appropriate
  • A review of UK tourism policy to encourage and promote holidays and journeys that are not dependent on air travel
  • Measures to ensure the aviation industry invests in increased research and development into zero carbon energy options for aviation, e.g. synthetic fuel using captured CO2, and carbon capture and storage of remaining emissions.