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The airline industry has missed 49 out of 50 climate targets set since 2000

Climate charities say the aviation industry’s ability to meet net zero by 2050 is doubtful given the sector’s track record on climate targets.

The aviation industry has missed, downgraded or failed to report on all but one of 50 climate targets set since the year 2000, casting doubt on ambitions for the sector to reach net zero by 2050.

The report, produced by climate charities Possible and Green Gumption, found targets around improving efficiency and sustainable fuels have suffered from “unclear definitions, shifting goalposts, a lack of reporting and, in some cases, being dropped altogether”. 

Alethea Warrington, campaigner at Possible, said the report showed the “ludicrousness” of “the government’s continuing insistence that the industry will be able to cut its emissions to net zero while allowing passenger numbers to continue to grow”.

In 2019, aviation emissions accounted for around 9.4 per cent of the UK’s total CO2 output, and is one of the sectors where emissions cuts are most difficult to achieve. 

The government’s “Jet Zero” strategy for achieving net zero emissions in the aviation sector by 2050 defies advice from its advisers, the Climate Change Committee, to reduce demand for flying.

Instead, the strategy anticipates demand continuing to increase, with emissions cuts to come from improvements in efficiency, sustainable aviation fuel and carbon offsetting. 

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Possible and Green Gumption’s report – titled Missed Targets – examined 50 separate climate targets set by the aviation industry since 2000, including airlines, regulators and industry associations. 

The charities found 49 out of 50 targets examined were missed, forgotten about or abandoned. 

A target set by Easyjet to reduce CO2 emissions per passenger by 2.5 per cent by 2017 was the only goal met – though the report labelled this target “unambitious”.

Every target set on the use of alternative fuel had been missed, in most cases “by orders of magnitude”, the report said. It added that target-setters also failed to report on their success or failure in the year the target was planned for completion.

Carbon offsetting is now “almost the only international policy” being taken by aviation actors in order to reduce emissions, the report said. It added that “problems are rife with offsetting schemes, including faulty calculations of the amount of carbon they absorb”.

The report’s authors concluded that target-setting by the industry appears to function “principally as a tactic for giving an impression of progress and action in order to prevent any policy barriers to ongoing growth in the industry”. 

They added that their findings cast doubt on the viability of the Jet Zero strategy, with analysis suggesting that “the industry is incapable of meeting its own targets”.

Warrington said of the report’s findings: “It’s hardly a surprise that the aviation industry is failing to regulate itself and manage the harm it causes our climate. 

“What is a surprise is both the scale of its failure to achieve even the small improvements it has set itself, and the ludicrousness of the government’s continuing insistence that the industry will be able to cut its emissions to net zero while allowing passenger numbers to continue to grow for the next three decades.”

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