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Including aviation emissions in Carbon Budgets, new technologies and zero carbon aircraft: EAC offers verdict to tackle emissions in aviation

21 December 2023

A number of initiatives to tackle emissions in aviation have been advanced from sustainable aviation fuels to zero carbon aircraft, new technologies and the consideration of demand management. The Committee welcomes the ambition in several of these areas, but is concerned that the Government’s Jet Zero Strategy carries significant risks to delivery to stem the rising emissions from the aviation sector.

Emissions from the aviation sector are considered to be one of the hardest to abate, and the Climate Change Committee has warned that unless abated, the sector is likely to be the largest emitting sector in the UK by 2050.

Despite their enormous impact on UK emissions, the Government is yet to include aviation emissions within Carbon Budgets, despite ministers’ assurance two and a half years ago to do so. Legislating for this – within the Climate Change Act 2008 – must therefore be done without any further delay and be in place for the forthcoming sixth Carbon Budget. This certainty would prevent budgetary headroom and would oblige the Government to address the complexities around accounting for the UK's share of international aviation emissions.

While there have been significant efforts to decarbonise the sector by attempting to remove carbon dioxide from aviation activity, additional environmental impacts are currently being ignored. For example, uncertainty remains over the impact of soot emissions and aviation sulphur compound emissions. Active research is needed on all environmental effects of aviation.

Currently less than 1% of UK demand is met by sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), and the Government aims that SAF provides 10% of aviation fuel for flights within and departing the UK by 2030. However, there is currently a wide variability in lifecycle emissions across the general class of fuels which the industry currently terms ‘sustainable aviation fuels’, and as a result, may lead to the development of aviation fuels which cannot be described as sustainable. A globally recognised definition is needed, and the Government must work with UK industry to ensure strong safeguards are in place to ensure SAFs developed in the UK are truly sustainable.  

The Government is not considering active demand management to have any role in reducing aviation emissions. The Committee calls on the Government to review progress against its Jet Zero Strategy by the end of 2025, and if current policies are not cutting emissions swiftly enough, that Ministers reconsider the role of demand management.

In 2019, 3.7% of the UK’s aviation emissions came from UK domestic flights, and the Committee notes there is enormous potential for zero emission short-haul UK journeys. Evidence was heard on the potential of both hydrogen-electric and battery-electric, with the options being deployable without significant infrastructure development. However, green hydrogen powered aircraft are likely to require infrastructure upgrades to supply the aircraft. The Committee calls on the Government to roll out zero emission aircraft on a number of routes within the UK by 2040, with a view to full roll out for all UK flights if successful.

Chair's comment

Environmental Audit Committee member, Jerome Mayhew MP, said: 

“Aviation’s path to decarbonisation is substantially slower than that of many other sectors of the economy, and will require a number of different initiatives to make a tangible impact.

“First, the correct legislation needs to be in place. Despite promises over the years, the Government is yet to include aviation emissions in its Carbon Budgets which monitor progress in the UK’s emissions reduction policies. Second, we must support industry in developing new technologies and fuels, and provide the right certainty and definitions for what can be coined a ‘sustainable aviation fuel’. These new technologies must not only reduce CO2 emissions, but take into account and mitigate other environmental impacts associated with aviation. And finally, we must champion the UK innovation on zero carbon aircraft here at home for UK flights.

“The Committee’s report today sets out clearly what the Government must be prioritising, and I look forward to receiving its response.”

Further information

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