HomeLow carbon futureJet Zero is letting aviation off the hook

Jet Zero is letting aviation off the hook

This post is by Matt Finch, interim UK director at Transport & Environment.

Published on the UK’s hottest day ever, and a day after the runway at Luton Airport melted from climate change induced heat, the government launched its long awaited Jet Zero strategy yesterday. This is intended to set a clear trajectory to get UK aviation to net zero emissions by 2050. Except, it doesn’t.

If allows aviation to keep polluting
Instead, the strategy fails the ‘Ronseal test’ miserably: it doesn’t do what it says on the tin. It in fact plans to allow UK aviation to pump out 19 million tonnes of CO2 in 2050. It also ignores the two thirds of aviation’s climate impact from non-CO2 impacts caused by planes, by pledging to combat them with as yet unknown policies at an undetermined point in the future.

To achieve the net zero claim for aviation, the strategy relies on mopping up 19 million tonnes of CO2 from elsewhere in the world and burying it, as an offset against the carbon emitted by planes in the sky. Such greenhouse gas removals are the equivalent of going to a restaurant, eating a steak, buying someone else a green salad and claiming to be vegetarian. As a long term strategy it’s not credible, especially as there are questions around the viability and reliability of some of the measures used for carbon removals.

There is some excellent progress on fuel
The strategy does have some bright points. The commitment never to surpass 2019’s emission levels again is excellent. Hidden away in a supporting document were half of the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) commitments, which are, again, excellent. These include: over half a billion pounds to kickstart a UK SAF industry; that SAF will not be allowed to be made from energy crops; and that there will be a sub-mandate for e-kerosene. The other half of the SAF commitments will be decided in the next few months, and will be crucial for establishing if the UK’s SAF mandate really is world leading (as the supporting document tells us it will be).

Equally, the commitment to zero emission aircraft is there, and the ambition to have a zero emission route by 2030 is genuinely world leading and to be commended. But let’s not kid ourselves: in the grand scheme of the strategy, the carbon effects of zero emission aircraft are going to be miniscule by 2050.

So, while there are some good points in this strategy, overall it is not nearly enough, released as it has been when most people in the UK will have experienced the hottest days of their lives. By allowing aviation to continue polluting with impunity, the Jet Zero strategy is playing a part in ensuring that, for many, this summer might be the coldest summer of the rest of their lives.

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.

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