Heathrow CEO: Aviation sector must set net-zero plan ‘as soon as possible’

EXCLUSIVE: Heathrow Airport's chief executive John Holland-Kaye has joined the growing calls for the aviation sector to implement a net-zero strategy, claiming that "imposing punitive costs" will not deter people from flying less.

Heathrow CEO: Aviation sector must set net-zero plan ‘as soon as possible’

John Holland-Kaye joined more than 60 Heads of State at the UN Summit on Climate Action this week

Heathrow’s Holland-Kaye is at the UN Climate Summit in New York this week. In an exclusive opinion piece for edie, the organisation’s chief executive has outlined his views on the future of sector, following calls from the Committee on Climate Change for Ministers to develop sector-specific strategies with time-bound, numerical targets for decarbonising the international aviation and shipping.

Holland-Kaye discusses the need for a sector-wide net-zero plan, the role of offsetting, and Heathrow’s own carbon-neutral expansion plans. He also claims that imposing costs on flights to dissuade people from air travel could make Britain uncompetitive.

Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye on aviation

“The advent of affordable air travel has changed our lives beyond recognition; from the movement of goods and services, to making different cultures and experiences accessible. It is not only rich countries in the west that have benefitted. The same planes that take western visitors to Africa also bring back fresh food, helping to grow tourism and exports. Global trade and just in time supply chains depend on aviation. When there is a natural disaster anywhere in the world, the aid usually gets to the people who need it by air, often from Heathrow. 

“Aviation is a force for good in improving the quality of life of billions of people worldwide. It represents 2-3% of global carbon emissions, significantly less than cement or steel.

“So why is it in the spotlight for environmentalists? It is very visible, and often seen as discretionary (though for long haul routes it is the only option). And because of the challenges of decarbonising long-haul flight, aviation’s share of global emissions will rise as other sectors move to net-zero.”

On the need for a net-zero aviation plan

“The reality is that carbon is the enemy, not aviation. It is to the credit of the industry that ICAO, the global aviation regulator, has secured an agreement to deliver carbon-neutral growth from international flights through a global offsetting scheme that comes into force next year. This follows from Europe’s inclusion of air travel in its emissions trading system from 2012.

“But now it is time to go further and ensure that aviation plays its part in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees. The prize is enormous. If we can decarbonise aviation, then we can do the same in every sector of our economy. 

“That is why I am proud to join more than 60 Heads of State at the UN Summit on Climate Action this week. My clear message to them, and to our industry, is that that climate change is happening, that aviation has to play its part and that we must set out a positive, global plan for how we can decarbonise aviation. That way we protect the benefits of aviation in a zero-carbon world.

“But unless we start planning to decarbonise now we risk leaving it too late. When the ICAO General Assembly meets later this week, they should commit to developing a global plan for net-zero aviation as soon as possible.” 

On Heathrow’s decarbonisation

“Decarbonising our airport is relatively straightforward. We have already cut carbon emissions at Heathrow by 80% and will be carbon neutral next year. We have a plan which will get us to zero emissions within 20 years by replacing gas-powered systems, and we are looking at doing that faster. We are exploring zero-carbon construction techniques for when we expand the airport, with a focus on cement and steel. 

“But the big opportunity is to decarbonise flight. Improvements in aircraft technology and operating procedures will help.  But ultimately, we will need sustainable fuels, like waste from forestry or domestic sources that don’t compete with food sources. There’s enough sustainable feedstock, it can be blended with fossil fuels and used in today’s engines. 

“What is holding it back? There is not enough supply and costs are too high, so the solution, proposed by the Energy Transitions Commission, is for governments around the world to agree that biofuels should be prioritised for aviation and to set targets for biofuels in kerosene which increase progressively. 

“That will send a signal to suppliers to increase production and as they do so, costs will come down, as has happened with wind power.  Blending will also minimise the impact on ticket prices, making sure that people around the world can still get the benefits of aviation while we move to a low carbon world.  The UK government can give Britain a head start in becoming a world leader in biofuels by using some of the £4bn raised annually from Air Passenger Duty to help incentivise airlines to invest in them.”

On green policy mechanisms

“At the same time, the government should encourage offsetting schemes that either help sectors such as steel, cement and aviation to decarbonise or help lock carbon in nature. At Heathrow, we have invested in a trial to restore peatlands in the UK, which not only reduces carbon emissions, but acts as a carbon sink. They also hold water in uplands after heavy rainfall, reducing the risk of flooding that we have seen in many parts of the UK this summer. There’s a real opportunity to channel private investment alongside public funds into schemes like this.

“If the UK acts alone, to stop people flying or by imposing punitive costs, then people will just go to another country to take a long-haul flight – exporting carbon emissions and making Britain uncompetitive.  We need to build a coalition of the willing to have all countries working to the same plan. The ICAO Assembly and next year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow are golden opportunities to take a lead, and Heathrow will play its part.”

The net-zero transition at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum

edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum returns in 2020, as some of the biggest companies, individuals and organisations championing sustainability gather at the Business Design Centre on 4 & 5 February to discuss the emergency response in transitioning to a net-zero economy.

The flagship, multi-award-winning event features keynotes speakers including Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland; Rebecca Marmot, Unilever CSO; Tom Szaky, TerraCycle CEO; Gilbert Ghostine, Firmenich CEO plus directors and senior managers from Interface, Vattenfall, John Lewis, Taylor Wimpey, Aviva, Pret A Manger, Pernod Ricard, LEGO Group, M&S, Diageo, Tesco, WSP, BASF, Mondelēz and more. For details and to register, visit: https://event.edie.net/forum/

edie staff 

Comments (2)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    One plan involved everyone in a lottery to win a flight, this can then be used or sold to the highest bidder. Thus the number of flights is controlled.

  2. chris yarrow says:

    Shut down my whorehouse, and men will just go down the street." That argument doesn’t justify selling sex, or mean that its levels of supply are inevitable.
    Perhaps long-distance flights should return to being "the trip of a lifetime," rather than an easy alternative to more local holidays. What does Orlando have that the Costas cannot offer? The food couldn’t be worse than in the US. Most destinations in Europe are now quickly reached by train, and fling is NOT necessary. Let’s stop behaving like spoilt, selfish brats!

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