Environment

The government's jet zero strategy for climate-friendly flying has been labelled a failure

The "jet zero" plan will allow the aviation sector to "carry on polluting with impunity", environmental groups have warned.

A Ryanair flight

Environmental groups say the strategy will not deliver the emissions cuts needed. Image: Pixabay

The government’s “jet zero” strategy for reducing the climate impacts of flying has been dubbed a failure by environmental groups who say the plan will not deliver sufficient cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan, unveiled on Tuesday, sets out how the government intends to achieve net zero aviation for domestic flights by 2040, alongside a target for at least 10 per cent of jet fuel to be sustainable by 2030.

While the government says it will allow people to fly “guilt-free” in future, environmental groups say the strategy is over-reliant on unproven technologies and greenhouse gas removals, with no intention to reduce demand for flying.

Matt Finch, UK director at charity Transport and Environment, said that despite “some good commitments”, the strategy will allow the aviation sector to “carry on polluting with impunity for the next 30 years” and represents a “missed opportunity” for reducing the impact of flying on the planet.

Aviation currently accounts for 2.5 per cent of CO2 emissions globally, and is largely driven by the wealthiest in society who take the highest number of flights.

The six “priority areas” set out in the jet zero strategy are:

  • Improving the efficiency of aviation to reduce emissions
  • Increasing support for, and production of, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF)
  • Supporting the development of zero-emission aircraft
  • Providing consumers with “better information” so they can make sustainable choices around flying
  • Increasing understanding of non-CO2 impacts of aviation, such as “contrails” – the water vapour released by planes

The strategy also says that emissions from aviation will not rise above 2019 levels again.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the strategy provides “a clear path to building a greener aviation sector for generations to come” without “clipping the [aviation] sector’s wings”.

Environmental groups, however, say it lacks ambition on reducing demand for flying and instead relies on unproven or underdeveloped technologies.

Alethea Warrington, campaigner at climate charity Possible, said: “As the UK swelters under a climate crisis-induced heatwave, the government’s new aviation strategy fails to do enough to get emissions down.

“While the government acknowledges that emissions from flights should not pass their pre-pandemic peak, it still allows the aviation sector to continue emitting too much for too long. Heavily relying on undeveloped, extremely expensive or unworkable technologies, the strategy crucially fails by leaving out a policy to fairly reduce the demand for flights such as a frequent flyer levy.”

With an estimated 70 per cent of international flights in the UK taken by 15 per cent of the population, a number of climate campaigners argue that taxing frequent fliers would be the fairest way to temper demand for flights.

The government has previously stated in a Commons report on aviation, however, that it and the aviation industry “say that there are compelling economic arguments in favour of continued growth”.

In November the government also deleted a piece of research on behavioural change for net zero which suggested that “achieving net zero requires significant behavioural change, including a significant reduction in demand for flying and eating ruminant meat and dairy.”

Select committee hearings on jet zero have also cast doubt on the technologies the sector will rely on to decarbonise, with little commercial development of SAF or emissions-free flight at present.

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Finch also said the strategy fails to address the non-CO2 impacts of flying such as environmental damage.

He said: “The jet zero strategy simply hasn’t lived up to the hype. Whilst the SAF and zero-emission aircraft commitments are very encouraging, the overreliance on greenhouse gas removals will baffle many.

“Additionally, it effectively ignores two thirds of aviation’s climate problem by not properly addressing the non-CO2 impacts planes cause”, Finch said. 

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