Committee on Climate Change advice to the Government on aviation: it must be included in the UK net-zero target
The advice from the Government’s statutory advisors on climate issues, the CCC, to the Government, says it is important that the carbon emissions of international aviation and shipping (IAS) are formally included into the UK net-zero target. This needs to complement international action to reduce aviation carbon. The CCC letter, from its Chairman Lord Deben, says the aim should be for international aviation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and this should be reflected in the Government’s forthcoming Aviation Strategy . “It means reducing actual emissions in the IAS sectors” and the CCC considers this “is likely to require some use of greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) to offset remaining emissions.” The limit of 30 MtCO2 per year, by UK aviation, requires demand growth of no more than 25% compared to 2018. That would only be possible if there are significant improvements in aircraft efficiency, maybe 10% of low carbon fuels, and some increased flight charges. But the UK is aiming at net zero by 2050. The CCC says aviation will have to pay to capture some CO2 from the atmosphere, and that only offsets that actually remove CO2 – rather than trying to stop more being emitted, would be acceptable.
Letter: International aviation and shipping and net zero
Letter from Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, (CCC) to Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport
2. Key recommendations
In summary our recommendations are:
- Addressing international aviation and shipping (IAS) emissions is strategically important. The primary policy approach to reducing IAS emissions should be international. Formal inclusion of IAS emissions in the UK net-zero target would complement agreed international policies and should not be interpreted as a unilateral UK approach to reducing emissions in these sectors.
- The planning assumption for international aviation and shipping should be to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This should be reflected in the Government’s forthcoming Aviation Strategy and as their Clean Maritime Plan is taken forward. It means reducing actual emissions in these sectors and is likely to require some use of greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) to offset remaining emissions.
- The Government can take steps towards enabling international aviation and shipping to reach net-zero emissions in the UK and internationally by establishing a new market for GGRs. Such a strategy could create a significant new global export opportunity for the UK in greenhouse gas removal technology and expertise.
The text of the letter
Dear Secretary of State,
The Government has legislated for the UK to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. I am pleased the Government clarified to Parliament that the target must cover the whole economy, including international aviation and shipping (IAS) emissions. This letter responds to the Government’s request on how to bring IAS emissions formally within the UK’s net-zero target, setting out the rationale and the implications for the UK’s climate strategy.
Our advice that 2050 is an appropriate date for net-zero is based on formal inclusion of IAS emissions within the target. Without this a more ambitious target is likely to be required.
The rationale for inclusion of IAS emissions in the UK carbon targets
The primary policy approach to reducing IAS emissions should be international. Through the efforts of your Department, the UK has played a key role in progress by both the International Civil Aviation Organisation (to agree a global offsetting scheme for aviation emissions to 2035) and the International Maritime Organisation (to agree to reduce shipping emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels and pursue efforts to phase emissions out entirely).
This international framing should not prevent the inclusion of IAS emissions in UK carbon targets, as is already the case for other sectors that are covered by international agreements and potentially exposed to competitiveness pressures (e.g. energy-intensive industry).
Addressing IAS emissions is strategically important. Formal inclusion of IAS emissions in the net-zero target would complement agreed international policies and should not be interpreted as a unilateral UK approach to reducing emissions in these sectors.
• Aviation is likely to be the largest emitting sector in the UK by 2050, even with strong progress on technology and limiting demand. Aviation also has climate warming effects beyond CO2, which it will be important to monitor and consider within future policies.
• Including IAS emissions in UK carbon targets increases confidence that the Government is appropriately prioritising their reduction. That should include pushing for suitably strong international levers, as well as using supplementary UK measures where these do not impact on the competitiveness of the IAS sectors.
• Inclusion of IAS emissions clarifies the requirements for policy development in other sectors (e.g. the scale of deployment needed for options to offset remaining emissions).
• There are no practical barriers to inclusion. Emissions are already estimated and reported to the UN and should be included in UK emissions targets on the same basis. The uncertainty attached to these estimates is no higher than for other sectors covered by carbon budgets.
• Inclusion can be managed through secondary legislation and without any additional costs
for achieving net-zero beyond those already agreed by Parliament. Formal inclusion of IAS emissions would help to guide long-term policy approaches and infrastructure investment decisions.
Achieving net-zero IAS emissions in the UK
The planning assumption for IAS should be to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This should be reflected in your forthcoming Aviation Strategy and as the Clean Maritime Plan is taken forward. It means reducing actual emissions in these sectors and is likely to require some use of greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) to offset remaining emissions:
• Aviation. Zero-carbon aviation is highly unlikely to be feasible by 2050.
– Aviation emissions could be reduced by around 20% from today to 2050 through improvements to fuel efficiency, some use of sustainable biofuels, and by limiting demand growth to at most 25% above current levels. This is likely to be cost-saving. There is potential to reduce emissions further with lower levels of demand.
– Novel fuels (e.g. synthetic carbon-neutral kerosene, algal biofuels) could allow greater reductions, but their development is highly speculative and should not be relied upon.
– The Government should assess its airport capacity strategy in this context. Specifically, investments will need to be demonstrated to make economic sense in a net-zero world and the transition towards it
• Shipping. Achieving zero-carbon or near zero-carbon shipping by 2050 is likely to be feasible and cost-effective through use of alternative fuels (e.g. zero-carbon hydrogen or ammonia). A transition to these fuels will need to be well underway globally before 2050, with refuelling infrastructure established and a substantial fraction of the fleet already switched, in order to meet the IMO’s current 2050 objective.
• Greenhouse gas removals (GGRs). For aviation, and to the extent that shipping emissions cannot be eliminated, measures to remove CO2 from the atmosphere will be required to offset remaining emissions. They cannot be a substitute for genuine emissions reductions.
– In the long term offsets can only be based on verifiable emissions removal from the atmosphere. These would ideally be delivered through the international framework (e.g. CORSIA), but may need additional UK policies. – However, there will not be unlimited access to GGR offsets since their potential is constrained by global land and other resources. The focus should therefore be on highly scalable GGR options rather than those limited in scope (e.g. afforestation).
The Government can take steps towards enabling IAS to reach net-zero emissions in the UK and internationally by establishing a new market for GGRs. Such a strategy could create a significant new global export opportunity for the UK in GGR technology and expertise.
Further detail on the issues covered in this letter is set out in the accompanying annex.
Chairman, Committee on Climate Change
and the rest of the advice follows the letter itself, at
Committee on Climate Change advice to government on aviation: flying will have to become more expensive
In a letter to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC – the government’s statutory advisor) warns that flying will have to become more expensive, especially for frequent flyers, to avoid climate chaos and keep the UK within its carbon targets. The letter also warns that going ahead with a Heathrow 3rd runway would all but rule out airport expansion in the rest of the country. Demand for aviation will have to be reduced, in order that aviation carbon is kept under some degree of control, while the UK has a zero carbon target for 2050. Ways demand could be reduced might be increased APD, new levies on frequent flyers and changes to air taxation relative to rail and road. Aviation is likely to become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 2050. The CCC says the government “should assess its airport capacity strategy in the context of net zero. Specifically, investments will need to be demonstrated to make economic sense in a net-zero world…” In other words, does it make sense to build another Heathrow runway, when future demand for air travel will have to be limited. The CCC’s Chairman, Chris Stark said: “But it’s very important that the government is honest about aviation emissions.”