UK Government accused of letting aviation sector sway climate strategy through donations

Aviation industry representatives donated more than £650,000 to the Conservative Party between April and June 2022, DeSmog has revealed, with the green group questioning whether this has swayed the Party’s approach to the sector’s net-zero transition.

UK Government accused of letting aviation sector sway climate strategy through donations

Phillip Meeson, executive chairman of budget airline Jet2, donated more than £8,000 during the quarter

Analysis of official donation declarations by the Party published by DeSmog today (16 September) concluded that the sector was its third-biggest donor in the second quarter of 2022.

Aviation sector sources donated £651,000 to the party in this timeframe. The top donor sectors were finance, with £1.8m, and real estate, with £717,000.

Donors included the executive chairman of airline and package holiday provider Jet2, Philip Meeson; Yorkshire-based airline Knaresborough Aviation; aviation fuel supplier AML Global’s owner Christopher Harborne and the Rigby Group. The Rigby Group is the owner of Bournemouth, Coventry, Exeter and Norwich airports.

Harborne was the largest donor from the sector, providing £515,000 during the quarter.

DeSmog and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas have questioned whether the continued donations from the sector to the Party are influencing policymaking, with profits being prioritized over climate advice. Also supporting DeSmog’s work are Transport & Environment and the Aviation Environment Federation.

The Party insists that donations are “ properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, openly published by them, and comply fully with the law”. It has stated that policy and party donations are “entirely separate”.

July saw the Government publishing its ‘Jet-Zero Strategy’, which purports to be aligned with net-zero international flights by 2050 and net-zero domestic flights and airport operations by 2040. The Department for Transport (DfT) stated that it did not wish to “clip the sectors wings” by mandating a cap on airport expansion or growing passenger numbers, instead outlining a mix of offsetting, efficiency improvements and alternative fuel use.

Green groups were quick to point out that the approach was largely in line with that voluntarily agreed to by influential trade group Sustainable Aviation, and largely against the advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC). The CCC stated in 2019 and has maintained since then that Ministers must set out plans to cap demand growth in aviation. This is because many key low-carbon technologies are not yet commercially mature, and offsets come with their own challenges.

Transport & Environment’s UK policy manager Matt Finch said: “The Jet Zero Strategy was not a good strategy – UK aviation was happy with it, as it essentially meant business as usual for them. Whilst it’s hard to confirm that these donations influenced ministers’ decisions, the suspicion will always be there.”

The Jet-Zero Strategy was published under Boris Johnson’s government with Grant Shapps heading up the DfT. Liz Truss has selected former International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to lead this cabinet role now. You can read edie’s explainer on Truss’s cabinet reshuffle, detailing the green policy history of those in key roles, here. 

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