Jet Zero Strategy: UK aims for net-zero aviation sector by 2050 through sustainable fuel drive
The UK Government has unveiled its plan to get the aviation sector to net-zero emissions by 2050, which would see domestic flights reach net-zero by 2040 and big investments into controversial solutions such as sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and offsets.
Just hours after the UK’s Net-Zero Strategy was deemed unlawful by a High Court ruling, the UK Government has unveiled its Jet Zero Strategy for a net-zero aviation sector.
The Government estimates that the sector contributes £22bn to the economy and is attempting to capture the economic benefits while decarbonising operations and flights. Whether this can be done remains to be seen.
The Jet Zero Strategy commits the sector to net-zero by 2050 and commits UK domestic aviation to achieving net zero emissions by 2040, and for all airports in England to be zero-emission by the same year.
The accompanying strategy document details that the Government is using a “high ambition” scenario based on consultation feedback that will aim to ensure that emissions from the sector peaked in 2019, prior to the pandemic. Sector targets for emissions will sit at 35.4 MtCO2e in 2030, 28.4 MtCO2e in 2040, and 19.3 MtCO2e in 2050.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We want 2019 to be remembered as the peak year for aviation emissions. From now on, it should all be downhill for carbon emissions – and steadily uphill for green flights. The UK is setting an example of the ambition needed to tackle climate change, and the Jet Zero Strategy provides a clear path to building a greener aviation sector for generations to come.
“Rather than clipping the sector’s wings, our pathway recognises that decarbonisation offers huge economic benefits, creating the jobs and industries of the future making sure UK businesses are at the forefront of this green revolution.”
Decarbonising the sector will, the Government believes, require investments into fuel efficiency and zero-emission aircraft development.
The Strategy aims to improve fuel efficiency by 2% every year and this will be supported by £3.7m next year to help airports modernise operations and facilities.
The Strategy also places a lot of faith in SAFs, a solution that has been met by criticism from green groups who claim that it is merely uses up useful feedstocks. The market share of SAFs is also miniscule; Eurocontrol estimated that SAF accounted for less than 1% of the European aviation sector’s jet fuel consumption in 2019.
Regardless, the Jet Zero Strategy will introduce an SAF mandate that will require at least 10% of jet fuel to be made from sustainable sources by 2030. This will be supported by ta new £165m Advanced Fuels Fund.
The UK Government also wants zero emission aircraft introduced with the aim of having zero-emission routes connecting places across the UK by 2030.
The Strategy also notes that the sector will have to offset any residual emissions, including through the UK Emission Trade Scheme (UK ETS).
Aviation accounts for 7% of UK emissions and of these emissions, 89% come from international aviation.
On aviation, the Climate Change Committee notes that despite a fall in emissions (again driven by the pandemic) fossil fuel use per passenger per km has increased by 72% since 2019, despite more than 20 years to improve fuel efficiency.
The CCC notes that the Net Zero Strategy and Jet Zero Strategy “rely heavily on technological changes in aviation as the sector’s contribution to Net Zero and for the removal of the sector’s residual emissions”. This, however, differs from the CCC’s own recommendations, which namely calls for a limit on growth in the sector, which has largely been ignored.
The CCC notes that greater policy clarity is needed to “provide a clear strategy” for decarbonisation alongside low-carbon technology updates. This would need to include a mandate on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) this year, “with strong safeguards to ensure significant lifecycle emissions savings”.
Earlier this year, the UK Government pledged to work with the aviation industry to deliver the world’s first net-zero-certified transatlantic flight by 2023, using a combination of alternative fuels and offsetting to mitigate emissions.
The flight will be powered using 100% SAF, with no conventional jet fuel in the mix. The Department for Transport (DfT) has asked the industry to prioritise the use of SAFs made using waste cooking oil and from household waste, as SAFs made using virgin biofuels can be detrimental in terms of land-use.
Following a call for expression of interest in May this year, companies can now bid for up to £1m of funding. The Government will announce the final successful applicant later this year.