UK aviation launches net-zero commitment for 2050, but won’t cap growth

Key members of the UK aviation industry, including Boeing, Virgin Atlantic and London City Airport are among a coalition that has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the sector by 2050, to assist with the UK's overall net-zero strategy.

UK aviation launches net-zero commitment for 2050, but won’t cap growth

Called Avelia, the scheme is offering around one million gallons of SAF in the first instance

Members of the UK Sustainable Aviation coalition have united behind a commitment, which was unveiled today (4 February) during a London briefing with Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps. The group has committed to achieving net-zero by 2050 through an “international approach” that will see it liaise with governments and the UN.

A roadmap to accompany the launch suggests the sector believes it can accommodate a 70% increase in passengers by 2050, while reducing carbon emissions from more than 30 million tonnes a year to net-zero. New aircraft and engine technology and smarter flight operations have been heralded as some of the solutions to support the transition.

“The fight against climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the modern world, but the aviation sector’s commitment today is a huge step forward in creating a greener future,” Shapps said.

“Aviation has a crucial role to play in reducing carbon emissions, and with the help of new technologies, renewable fuels and our continued international co-operation through the UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, we’ll be able to strike that balance, creating a greener and cleaner future.”

The use of “robust carbon offsets and investment in innovative carbon removal solutions” will be vital to address residual UK aviation emissions by 2050, the report notes.

A “Sustainable Aviation Fuels Road-Map” has also been released today, noting that alternative and sustainable fuels could account for one third of the UK’s demand for aviation fuel by 2050.

Hard miles ahead

Despite the new commitments, it has been suggested that if the UK is to meet its 2050 net-zero target, Ministers must develop sector-specific strategies with time-bound, numerical targets for decarbonising the international aviation and shipping (IAS).

The Committee on Climate Change recommends that the Aviation Strategy should include measures to continually support the development of innovations to decarbonise the sector, such as electric planes and alternative fuels, alongside measures to limit airport expansions and the growth of demand for international flights to and from the UK.

IAS notably stood outside of the remit of the UK’s original Climate Change Act (2008) targets, but were added to its updated 2050 target earlier this year after green campaigners accused the Government of “creative carbon accounting”.

Neil Robinson, Chair of Sustainable Aviation, said: “Climate change is a clear and pressing issue for people, businesses and governments across the world. We know aviation emissions will increase if decisive action is not taken, and that’s why UK aviation today commits to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, through an international approach, working with governments around the world and through the UN.

“The UK is well-positioned to become one of the leaders in the green technologies of the future, including sustainable aviation fuels and electric flight, creating highly-skilled and well-paid jobs in the process, and we look forward to working in partnership with Ministers to help realise these opportunities.”

A host of airports and aviation firms have recently made their own net-zero commitments.

Birmingham Airport has set a commitment to become a net-zero carbon airport by 2033, noting that it has a “big opportunity” to reduce emissions via onsite renewable generation and would also minimise the use of carbon offsets.

International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways (BA), became the first airline group to commit to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Bahas started offsetting emissions from all domestic passenger flights.

In fact, British Airways and Shell have provided funding totalling £2.8m to support the development of a UK-based facility that could produce 20 million gallons of sustainable jet fuel annually.

Responding to today’s announcement Justin Francis, founder and chief executive of activist company Responsible Travel, said: “We welcome genuine progress, but today’s announcement is a mask for unlimited growth, and even more emissions – fundamentally incompatible with necessary measures to avoid uncontrollable climate heating.

“We can’t offset our way out of the climate crisis – until we have cleaner technologies, actual and urgent carbon reduction is the only viable option. I’d urge bold leadership from the government to incentivise serious progress on real carbon reduction, and we need to see a tax on aviation fuel, ring-fenced for research investment into greener technologies.”

Matt Mace

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