Jet Zero Council: Government unveils new collaborative initiative to decarbonise aviation

Ministers are seeking to enable zero-carbon transatlantic passenger flights within a generation

The new initiative was announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps during the Government’s evening Covid-19 briefing on Friday evening (12 June).

Shapps said that, despite an “impossible few months” for the aviation industry, with passenger numbers down 95% globally amid the health and economic impacts of coronavirus, the sector is “determined” to make a “greener start”.

As such, the Jet Zero Council will be charged with “making net-zero possible” for the aviation sector, which is widely regarded as hard-to-abate due to a lack of technological solutions and, pandemic aside, ever-increasing global demand.

The UK Government is specifically urging the group to ensure that zero-carbon transatlantic passenger flights are possible “within a generation”. This is significant, given that the larger an aircraft is and the further it is required to travel, the more technologically challenging it is to decarbonise.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has not yet published a list of all organisations participating in the new Council. However, it did announce a £500,000 pot for Velocys, the renewable fuel developer behind plans to transform household waste into jet fuel at a new facility in Lincolnshire

Potential paths for decarbonising aviation in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory have proven contentious. The UK Sustainable Aviation Coalition recently published a roadmap for the net-zero transition, for example. The plan drew criticism for centring heavily on developing sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), deprioritising electric aircraft and insisting that the UK’s aviation sector can grow by 70% over the next three decades without breaching climate targets – which the Committee on Climate Change has rubbished

Green recovery or brown bailouts?

The formation of the Jet Zero Council comes at a pivotal moment for the aviation sector.

As of late April, European airlines and airports had collectively applied for €12.8bn (£11.3bn) in government support. None of these businesses had attached binding environmental requirements to their applications.

The weeks that have followed have seen green groups, think tanks, thought leaders and politicians lobby for a greener recovery for the aviation sector, which is responsible for around 3% of global emissions on an annual basis and has, pandemic aside, been growing rapidly.

In the UK specifically, the nation’s recovery plans have not yet been finalised or published – they are due at some point in the next fortnight – but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated that the frameworks will centre around creating a “fairer, greener, more resilient” economy.

Several airlines, however, have already received significant government packages with no environmental strings attached. EasyJet, for example, received a £600m bailout in April. Moreover, Parliament’s Transport Committee is currently calling for a string of tax breaks for the aviation sector, with no environmental requirements attached.

Sarah George

Comments (2)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Richard Phillips

  2. Ian Byrne says:

    I would hope that some of the environmental groups contain good scientists. I don’t think that there can realistically be a science or engineering-based solution to this; the answers are likely to be at least in part behavioural (fly less) and possibly develop more high speed rail as alternatives to flying. There is a need for sustainable fuels, as well as potentially for slow aviation (airships, etc.) but these cannot be expected to match recent levels of mass aviation. And I say that with some sadness as someone who loves to travel. @Richard Phillips

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