Peggy Hollinger and Sylvia Pfeifer Financial Times
UK aviation sets short-term targets in 2050 zero emissions pledge
June 22, 2021
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  • Britain’s aviation sector is setting 10 and 20 year targets to cut carbon emissions in a bid to reinforce its pledge to achieve its net zero CO2 target by 2050.

    UK airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service providers, under the aegis of the Sustainable Aviation alliance, are promising to reduce or offset the sector’s net emissions by 15 per cent in 2030 compared to 2019 levels, and by 40 per cent in 2040. 

    However, a substantial proportion of the targets will still have to be met by offsetting schemes or carbon removal technology, which is not yet fully commercialised.

    The pledge, to be unveiled on Tuesday, comes as the government considers measures to meet its own plan to reduce Britain’s emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 and net zero by 2050. These could include requiring minimum levels of sustainable fuel on every flight.

    Aviation emissions accounted for 7 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to the Climate Change Committee.

    Sean Doyle of British Airways, Stewart Wingate of Gatwick airport, and Charlie Cornish of Manchester Airport Group are among aviation chief executives who have backed the pledge.

    However, the industry is also warning the government must move faster to incentivise investment in the nascent clean technologies on which its targets depend. Support was needed to commercialise carbon removal technologies and to bring down green fuel costs, the alliance said.

    “If the government doesn’t get behind sustainable aviation fuel and other technology, then the industry is just left with . . . having to buy in solutions,” said Andy Jefferson, Sustainable Aviation’s programme director. “The industry would have to buy more credits to address residual emissions.”

    Rolls-Royce, which plans to make all commercial engines in production able to run on 100 per cent sustainable fuel by 2023, said one of the biggest challenges is supply. 

    “We need to scale up the availability of sustainable fuels and to balance the economics as well to support that scale-up,” said Rachael Everard, head of sustainability at the group. “Technology is not the limiting factor.” 

    The targets add to the plan for net zero unveiled last year. They show that in 2030, 56 per cent of the reduction in emissions will come mainly from market-based initiatives such as Corsia, aviation’s heavily criticised carbon offsetting system, and emissions trading schemes in the EU and UK. 

    Carbon removal technologies and market-based measures will then account for 47 per cent of the savings by 2040. New, cleaner aircraft will account for about 31 per cent by 2030 and 38 per cent in 2040. 

    The study shows that in 2050 the industry will be emitting 25m tonnes of carbon, which would be mitigated by purchasing carbon removal services or using offsetting schemes.

    Matt Finch, UK policy manager at Transport & Environment, said industry was “still trying to have its cake and eat it, by trying to pay its way out of its emissions addiction via offsets . . . The 2050 end point should be to get total greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible. Instead it still plans on emitting well over half of what it does today.”