Betting on ‘fantasy solutions’: Green groups say Jet Zero Strategy won’t cut aviation’s climate impact

Stock image: Heathrow Airport

The Department for Transport (DfT) has today published its much-anticipated Jet-Zero Strategy – its plans for aligning the aviation sector with the net-zero targets first outlined in its 2021 Transport Decarbonisation Plan. These are 2040 for airport operations in England and domestic flights in the UK, and 2050 for international flights.

As expected, the Jet-Zero Strategy does not outline measures to cap or reduce passenger numbers  – a move recommended by the Government’s own climate advisors but disagreed with by the Conservative Party, especially as the aviation sector is still very much in the Covid-19 recovery phase.

Instead, the DfT is placing heavy bets on the ability of airlines to improve the fuel efficiencies of their planes and to shift to sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). It targets a 2% improvement in fuel efficiency every year from 2022 and confirms a SAF mandate, requiring all suppliers of fuel to airports to use blends of at least 10% SAFs. A carbon standard will be implemented in a bid to spur the market for the fuels with the lowest footprint.

SAF is popular as it can be dropped in as a fuel replacement, in blends of up to 50%, without changes to engines or to international regulations. It is also more mature a technology than electric and hydrogen planes. Indeed, the Government has consulted with the Sustainable Aviation trade body in producing the Strategy, which is a major SAF advocate.

The organisation’s chairman Matt Gorman – also director of sustainability at Heathrow Airport – said: “With the world’s third-largest aviation network and proud history of aviation innovation, the UK is in a prime position to lead the global transition to a Jet Zero future. Today’s strategy and pledges by Jet Zero Council members are a significant milestone on the path to achieving this ambition, recognising that aviation can grow sustainably, with the right support.

“We are pleased to see a strategy focussed on supporting the technologies that will deliver this ambition. We look forward to working with Government on the commercialisation and scale-up of SAFs  in the UK, investment in technology including zero-emission aircraft, delivery of critical airspace modernisation and supporting carbon removal technologies. We hope this will include policy support to quickly deliver a mandate and the right commercial incentives to enable investment in SAF plants here in the UK whilst ensuring the wider technology solutions are developed and implemented.”

But SAF is a fiercely debated technology. The SAF production and use market is in its infancy, and questions abound about the lifecycle impacts of different SAFs. Beyond carbon emissions, there are other greenhouse gases, land use and food security issues to consider.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claims the Strategy will ensure that 2019 will be the peak year for aviation emissions from the UK. Some sustainability groups are not so sure. Here, edie summarises their reactions.

A statement on Twitter from climate charity Possible reads: “All of the technology solutions in this aviation strategy are a complete fantasy. They’re either extremely expensive, close to physically impossible, demand a ridiculous share of the planet’s limited resources, or wouldn’t actually reduce emissions.

“Electric planes? Batteries make them too heavy to take off. Hydrogen planes? Fuel cells make them too heavy to take off. ‘Sustainable’ aviation fuels? Extremely detrimental to the climate.

“The truth is there is only one method for reducing aviation emissions which we know works: reducing the number of flights. Even the government’s own climate advisers agree – but today the government ignored them in favour of a fantasy of unlimited growth on a finite planet.

“Reducing flights means tackling frequent flying. And we can do that in a way that won’t affect most of us. 15% of people take 70% of all the flights, and half of us don’t fly in any given year. We need a frequent flyer levy.”

Transport & Environment UK’s director Matt Finch said: “The Jet Zero Strategy landed on the same day as the nation melts under record climate-change induced heat. But rather than a pragmatic plan to fully wean the aviation industry off fossil fuels, it allows the sector to carry on polluting with impunity for the next 30 years. Whilst there are some good commitments, it will go down in history as a missed opportunity.

“Whilst the SAF and zero-emission aircraft commitments are very encouraging, the overreliance on greenhouse gas removals will baffle many. Additionally, it effectively ignores two thirds of aviation’s climate problem by not properly addressing the non-CO2 impacts planes cause.”

Green Alliance’s head of climate policy Helena Bennett said: “This Strategy is placing bets on technologies that we aren’t certain can deliver emissions reductions, while allowing for growth in passenger demand and continued expansion of airports.

“The Government had an opportunity to look at managing demand for flights – should technology fail to deliver the emissions savings needed, as the Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommended.

“But this advice has been blatantly ignored by the government, despite acknowledging they received a high volume of responses to their consultation to introduce demand management measures.”

The New Economics Foundation’s senior researcher Alex Chapman said: “At best, this plan will deliver peak carbon emissions in 2019, but with its plan for unlimited air travel growth, non-carbon aviation emissions will rise, and will persist all the way to 2050.

“Drawing a downward slanting line on a piece of paper and crossing your fingers is not a ‘strategy’. Instead of meaningfully reducing the demand for air travel, the government’s plan is to allow unlimited growth in one of the country’s most climate-damaging activities. This is irresponsible and dangerous. The Jet Zero strategy gambles public safety on miracle future technologies as well as risky and expensive carbon offsetting.”

The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology’s (REA) head of renewable transport fuels Paul Thompson said: “The REA welcomes the ambition shown in the announcements. 10% of jet fuels being produced from low carbon sources by 2030 is a strong statement of intent.

“However, we must maintain momentum, keep up the pressure to ensure policies are delivered, and secure guarantees that the subsequent consultation will not see measures or timings slip. In order to realise the maximum benefits of the policy – such as new production facilities and investment in the UK – further measures will be required. As with much of the Government’s Net Zero strategies, targets must now be backed up with action.”

Comments (1)

  1. Dave Stanley says:

    Here is how to reduce demand for aviation.

    Climate Change, Tax and levelling up with budget balancing

    The UK faces a wide range fundamental challenges – energy security, economic, social and environmental loss and degradation, rising fossil fuel use Causing Climate Change. Significant increase in energy prices and consequential inflationary impact on most goods and services, has caused a disproportionate impact on the poor loss – of £20 universal credit, increased in national insurance and widening disparity between the poor and rich. During the pandemic, whilst millions in the UK were furloughed or unemployed, the number of billionaires jumped by 24% of their total wealth increased by 20%!

    Between competing politicians and parties extraordinary conflicting and contradictory claims for solutions are being made in respect of tax NI reductions, higher wages, tax burdens, inflationary measures, budget balancing, levelling up, bonfire of EU red tape/regs and rarely mentioned critically Climate Change.

    Might I humbly suggest the answer is a radical rethink of our tax system guided by the principle of “tax as you burn not as you earn”?

    Scrap PAYE, National Insurance, and VAT. Substitute with a progressive tax on personal energy consumption – coupled with free energy allocation at the bottom and then graduated incremental tax on increasing consumption.

    Clearly we are faced by desperate times ahead that will not be tackled by tweeking the business as usual approach.
    We need radical measures to be actioned now.
    So what actions might be taken to address our problems?

    1. VAT. Scrap VAT replace the £100 billion by a tax on fossil fuel inputs – with no exemptions.
    2. PAYE/NI. Rapidly phase-out Pay As You Earn and National Insurance. Replace it with a progressive Pay As You Consume Energy tax (PAYCE?). A personal tax on fossil fuels only would have unintended consequences – switching to renewables which themselves have very significant negative environmental impacts. Thus PAYCE would be a tax on ALL energy personally consumed, whether it is directly through domestic gas oil electricity consumption, transport, or embedded in the goods and services purchased. It would apply to fossil fuel and energy from renewable resources – Biomass, wind turbines, PV, nuclear, hydrogen etc. In a similar way to PAYE it would be payable on a progressive banded basis.
    In addition to removing the income tax, NI & VAT burden on the poor an allocation of free energy to all at the bottom band would further substantially redress the inequality issue.

    How would it work?


    The first and lowest band of the personal energy consumption (say 500kWh/ month) could entail a free energy allocation. Everyone, including children, would be entitled to this free energy allocation, and for those families on low incomes this would represent a significant poverty alleviation measure. The individual energy allocation would encourage a range of practices such as multiple occupancy of homes, car sharing etc.
    However all energy consumption per household would be attributed to adults.

    The second band (say 500-1000kWh/month) could be zero tax rated.

    At the third band (1000 – 1500 kWh/ month) tax would become payables at, say, 20p per kWh consumed. Ie. Doubling the price of the energy consumed.

    For each consecutive band – an additional 20p/kWh would be applied and so on.
    To further incentivise personal energy reduction after, say, 5 bands the rate of change might switch to a 30% increase on the previous band paid, or tighten the bands.

    The rate of consumption, banding and the tax charge would need to be modelled to ensure delivery of both required energy reduction and the required Treasury revenue stream.

    Collection? Again, fairly straightforward, particularly following the pandemic and our switch to using cards for payments.
    The total energy embodied into any service or goods would be included in the barcode. The Bank would be required to total up the energy consumed by that individual each month, apply the tax banding to it, and then include in the credit card invoice. Then of course forward that energy tax to the Inland Revenue.

    The benefits of such a change in taxation include:
    * Incentivising all parties to reduce their energy consumption – producers to reduce their fossil fuel consumption and increase their competitiveness, and consumers to reduce their tax liability.
    * “Levelling Up” by placing the tax burden on those who have the greatest negative resource/emissions impact – the rich.
    * Allows individuals the freedom to decide their energy use priorities.
    * Simplifies our complex tax system and could be readily implemented.
    * Allows Treasury to effectively manage its revenue.
    * Incorporating a tax on the total embodied fossil fuel in imports (ie Carbon border adjustment mechanism – CBAM) increasing the competitiveness of UK goods and services.
    * Increases employment.
    * Supports low input ecosystem friendly farming and food
    * And significantly contributes to mitigating global heating.
    Just to mention a few!

    The full detailed evidence that was submitted to the EAC, “Greening the post-Covid recovery” expanding on import/export implications, impact on food, ecosystems etc is attached.
    But was probably considered to be outside their toolbox!

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