New paper on future UK aviation shows how fiscal measures will be needed to limit CO2 emissions

In a recent article in “World Transport Policy and Practice”, 4 authors (Harry William Vallack, Gary Haq, John Whitelegg and Howard Cambridge) write on the prospects of UK transport being zero carbon by 2050 – or how far it will fall short of this target.  Compared to the carbon emissions target that the Committee on Climate Change recommends, of 37.5 MtCO2 per year, by 2050, the paper estimates UK aviation carbon emissions as considerably higher, unless a range of measures are taken to ensure they do not grow. In their “Maximum Impact (MI) scenario, in which UK aviation emissions might possibly be prevented from rising, some 27% of the cut would need to be from fiscal measures (ie. tax and pricing); some 14% of the cut could come from aircraft technology (with perhaps a small amount of biofuel); 13% cut in the CO2 emissions might be from better air traffic control; and 10% could come from constrained demand (ie. not building runways on a predict-and-provide basis). Even with all the Maximum Impact measures, UK aviation emissions could only – at the most optimistic – be reduced by 56% of their “business as usual” level, by 2050. UK surface transport has to be zero carbon, to enable growth in aviation and shipping.


“Policy pathways towards achieving a zero carbon transport sector in the UK in 2050″

Harry William Vallack, Gary Haq, John Whitelegg and Howard Cambridge

Sept 2014

Paper in “Eco-Logica”  World Transport Policy and Practice

Part of table copied below ( p. 37):

Future UK aviation emissions table


Some extracts from the paper:

….”Maximum Impact (MI) Scenario
The MI Scenario envisions a radically different Britain by 2050, where the UK transport sector emits close to zero CO2. A wide range of measures known to reduce CO2 emissions are grouped into in four categories (spatial planning, fiscal, behavioural and technology) and the impacts of each assessed separately in order to allow their relative efficacy to be assessed.”


“Aviation emissions under the MI (Maximum Impact) scenario are only reduced by 56% cent when compared with the 2050 BAU (business as usual) emissions. Fiscal measures achieve a 27% reduction in emissions while improvements in aircraft technology and management reduce emissions by 13-14%.

Shipping emissions are only reduced by 49 per cent under the MI Scenario compared with the 2050 BAU emissions. New technology alone achieves emission reductions of 30 per cent while speed/voyage optimisation by itself achieves a 23 per cent reduction in emissions. However, emissions in the MI Scenario are still almost 60 per cent higher than those in the baseline year of 2005. This is due to the overall growth in shipping expected during the next forty years.

Although road and rail transport could both achieve the zero CO2 emission target by 2050, emissions from aviation and shipping are more problematic with only a 49% reduction achieved for shipping and a 56% reduction for aviation compared with the 2050 BAU emissions.

Thus, under the 2050 MI Scenario, the net result for the UK transport sector as a whole is a 76 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions (compared with the 2050 BAU scenario); well short of the zero carbon vision. To improve the CO2 emissions reduction for UK transport as a whole, including those parts of international aviation and shipping for which the UK is responsible, would require much more radical interventions or technological innovations for these two sectors than envisaged here.”

“4. Conclusion

Transport is an important source of CO2 emissions in the UK showing relatively high growth rates that are inconsistent with the need to reduce UK’s CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. As an aid to the policy-making process, visioning and backcasting can together provide a useful means of characterising a preferred future and then exploring the impact of implementing a range of measures that might deliver that future. This process is a departure from traditional transport planning which has tended to focus on forecasting and modelling what might happen and then seeking to meet forecasts of increased demand for mobility with additional infrastructure e.g. airport terminals, lane widening on motorways, bypasses and high-speed rail.”

“In this paper, the vision and backcasting analysis shows that the potential to reduce transport CO2 emissions is much larger than has hitherto been recognised. A largely decarbonised transport system can still deliver the transport needs of passengers and freight. It also shows that decarbonisation is highly dependent on the integrated and synergistic effects of adopting behavioural, spatial, fiscal and technological interventions simultaneously to support the changes to the transport system.”

The research in this paper has been made possible by a grant from the Greenpeace Environmental Trust.


Other extracts:
“Meanwhile, CO2 emissions from UK aviation are set to continue rising, the DfT forecasting approximately 50% increase on 2010 levels by 2040. (DfT, 2011).”

Under their ‘central case’ scenario, the DfT assume that airport capacity is not constrained and forecast that air travel demand at Uk airports will row strongly from 241 million passengers per annum (mppa) in 2007 to 465 in 2030 (within the range 415 – 500 mppa). This will result in an increase in total UK aviation CO2 emissions from 37.5Mt CO2 in 2005 to 58.4 MtCO2 (range 51.8 – 61.6) Mt CO2 in 2030. After 2030 the growth in aviation emissions is projected to slow down due to market maturity, limits to improvements in aircraft efficiency, and capacity constraints slowing demand growth. By 2050 aviation emissions are projected to have stablilied at 59.9 (range 53.0 – 65.0) MtCO2.”


“Behavioural: Aviation growth will continue, albeit at an increasinlgy slower rate, and a general “greening” of attitudes and behavour will gradually smooth out growth rates in the latter half of the projection. (And more about more rail travel, more video conferencing, and then cultural change in organisations towards travel through de-incentivising foreign travel and a stronger sense of corporate social responsibility.”

Professor John Whitelegg is visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute.