Government announce a new “Jet Zero” council … but no details or notice to environmental organisations
In a surprise announcement at Friday’s government Covid-19 daily briefing, Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, revealed plans for a ‘jet zero’ council, that will include representatives from the aviation industry, Government and environmental groups. Its alleged goal is “to make zero emissions transatlantic flight possible within a generation.” No further details were made available. No environmental group was given any notice about this new initiative. As the principal environmental body working on aviation issues, the AEF (Aviation Environment Federation) should have been included, if the government initiative was serious – not just a bit of nice publicity for the aviation sector. AEF has written to Shapps, to say that if the ‘jet zero’ council is to be a worthwhile initiative, the Government must ensure that it does not simply provide good PR for airlines and airports about a future aspiration – while allowing current emissions to grow unhindered. The initiative must be part of a wider programme of government action to deliver the UK’s climate commitments. The council must operate in a transparent manner including engaging with environmental organisations and all relevant stakeholders. To read the letter in full, click here.
Jet Zero Council: AEF open letter
In a surprise announcement at Friday’s government Covid-19 daily briefing, Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, revealed plans for a ‘jet zero’ council, that will include representatives from the aviation industry, Government and environmental groups.
Its goal, he said, would be to make zero emissions transatlantic flight possible within a generation. No further details were made available.
AEF has written an open letter to the Transport Secretary arguing that for the ‘jet zero’ council to be a worthwhile initiative the Government must ensure that it does not simply provide good PR for airlines and airports about a future aspiration while allowing emissions from the existing fleet to grow unhindered.
The initiative must, the letter says, be part of a wider programme of government action to deliver the UK’s climate commitments, and the council must operate in a transparent manner including engaging with environmental organisations and all relevant stakeholders.
To read the letter in full, click here.
And to see a news report on the announcement of “Jet Zero” see below.
The letter says:
15 June 2020
Dear Secretary of State,
Open letter re ‘jet zero’ Council
We noted with interest your announcement on Friday that the Government will create a ‘jet zero’ council charged with making net zero emissions possible for future flights. As the UK’s only NGO dedicated to making the case for policy action on aviation environmental impacts, we welcome this ambition.
We are pleased that the aviation industry has indicated to you its desire for a greener restart, something that environmental NGOs and unions have also called for. The scale of the challenge involved in tackling the emissions from aviation must not, however, be underestimated. As you noted on Friday transport is currently the UK’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter when international aviation is included. Aviation is almost completely dependent on fossil fuels and is anticipated to be the single largest source of emissions in the UK in 2050. For the ‘jet zero’ council to be a worthwhile initiative it will be essential to ensure that it does not simply provide good PR for airlines and airports about a future aspiration while allowing emissions from the existing fleet to grow unhindered.
In order to meet the objective recently set out by your department for the decarbonisation of all transport modes, the Government should, we suggest, urgently address the following questions in relation to the role of the ‘jet zero’ council.
1. How does it fit with the need for measures to ensure rapid decarbonisation of the entire aviation sector by 2050?
At present, the Government has no climate policy in place for aviation, and the timetable for developing one remains unclear after various delays to the expected consultation on the climate update to the Aviation Strategy. AEF, together with a number of large environmental organisations, has set out the policy measures that are required in order to build back better for aviation1 [ link ] . A ‘jet zero’ council could help to progress delivery of the technology options considered under section 3 of that briefing. But the actions set out in sections 1 and 2 – on the need for the aviation sector to be held to account for its emissions in the context of the UK’s economy-wide net zero law, and to pay a fair share towards delivering a green recovery – are essential for Government to deliver in parallel. There is currently little incentive for airlines to make the considerable investment that would be required to develop genuinely zero carbon technology or fuels, or to adopt them if available, for as long as kerosene remains a more affordable option. In the absence of meaningful policy to hold the industry to account, such as inclusion of its emissions in carbon budgets, the council risks looking like ‘cover’ for airlines to resume their former, unsustainable emissions trajectory.
2. How will you ensure that the work of the council is transparent and robust?
Your announcement indicated that the council would be composed of representatives from the aviation industry, government and environmental organisations. Early clarification is needed of the plans to include environmental groups on the Council as well as appropriate independent experts. It will be important to ensure transparency of the council’s work, and if possible, to allow for external engagement given the wide interest it is likely to generate.
3. How will the council’s work keep a ‘whole economy’ perspective?
Some technology options for aviation may look attractive to airlines or airports but fail to deliver the best use of resources at an economy-wide level. While some are arguing for incentives to increase the use of biofuels in aircraft, for example, the Committee on Climate Change has argued that because the supply of sustainable biomass is limited, it should be prioritised in sectors where it can be combined with carbon capture and storage. Making aircraft fuel from waste, meanwhile, reduces emissions from the waste sector but still produces CO2 when burnt so cannot be ‘net zero’ from a whole-economy perspective.
A zero carbon flight across the Atlantic within a generation, the goal of the ‘jet zero’ council, will not be enough to meet the need for all flight to be net zero emissions within thirty years – the target to which the Government has effectively agreed in passing its net zero legislation. Nevertheless, a commitment to step up the development of new technologies is essential as one of the measures that the Government will need to put in place in order to ensure that we “build back better” for aviation.
We hope that you will put in place the right measures both to ensure that the council is successful and to deliver effective policies for aviation in parallel.
We would be happy to discuss these issues with you.
Tim Johnson Director
Government prepares Jet Zero Council for take-off
By James S Murray @James_BG (Business Green)
12 June 2020
New government and industry body designed to help deliver transatlantic net zero flight ‘within a generation’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today announced a dual boost to the UK’s nascent low carbon aviation sector, confirming the formation of a new ‘Jet Zero Council’ and the award of fresh funding for green fuel specialist Velocsys.
Shapps used his appearance at the daily coronavirus press conference to announce the moves, which he said would support the government’s vision of a “greener transport future”.
Building on the recent confirmation the government is to invest £2bn in new active transport infrastructure, Shapps said the challenge was “to make transport – currently our biggest emitter of greenhouse gases – part of the solution, not the problem”.
He added that decarbonisation was particularly difficult for an aviation industry that has faced an “impossible few months” as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
“Yet, despite the obvious challenges, there’s a real determination within the industry to have a greener restart,” Shapps said. “So we’re bringing together leaders from aviation, environmental groups and government to form the Jet Zero Council. This group will be charged with making net zero emissions possible for future flights.”
He added that the government’s goal was to demonstrate it was possible to undertake flight across the Atlantic, without harming the environment, “within a generation”.
Shapps praised the work of the industry-backed Whittle Labs, which is working with Cambridge University to accelerate the development of zero carbon flight technologies.
And he confirmed fresh government funding is to provided to Velocys in support of its plans to build a major jet biofuel plant in Lincolnshire.
The company announced this morning that it had secured a further £500,000 of grant funding for its Altalto waste-to-fuels project from the Department for Transport (DfT), under the Future Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition (F4C).
Henrik Wareborn, Velocys CEO, said “the formation of a Jet Zero Council shows that a new era of net zero carbon flying is on a credible path, at a time when we need it more than ever”.
He added that the new funding for the Altalto facility combined with formal planning permission for the project, meant “it could be producing sustainable aviation fuel in commercial scale by the middle of this decade”.
The announcements were also welcomed by Karen Dee, chief executive at the Airport Operators Association (AOA), who said the new council would help “make net zero carbon emissions for the aviation industry a reality”.
“Funding for sustainable aviation fuels will help to pump-prime an entirely new industry, generating new jobs and economic growth, while reducing emissions from international aviation,” she said. “UK airports are doing all they can to reduce the carbon emissions from the operation on the ground, the announcement today will help industry meet its commitments in the sky as well.”
However, the plans are likely to be met with more scepticism from environmental groups, which have long argued that attempts to develop zero emission aviation technologies need to backed by major new funding commitments while being combined with policy measures to curb emissions in the short term, such as an end to airport expansion and frequent flier levies.
It remains to be seen if the government provides further funding for green aviation programmes as part of its imminent economic stimulus package, which Ministers have indicated is likely to incorporate a raft of climate-related projects.
The move comes in the same week as the French government announced a €15bn bailout package for French airlines and aerospace companies, which included a series of measures to expand R&D programmes to develop electric, hydrogen, and hybrid jet engine technologies, as well as plans to halt some domestic routes that compete with high speed rail.
A raft of airlines and airports have announced net zero emissions targets in recent years, while at the same time aerospace companies have ramped up investment in new clean technologies.
However, there is considerable debate over how feasible it is to decarbonise aviation, especially for long haul flights. Successful test flights have demonstrated that small planes can operate with batteries and electric motors, but it remains a huge technical leap to deliver low emission jet aircraft.
Engineers are optimistic hydrogen fuel cells and electric motors could one day combine with conventional jet engines to deliver low emission hybrid planes, while biofuels also offer a route to curbing aviation emissions. But experts have warned that biofuels are currently considerably more expensive than conventional jet fuel and are not yet available at scale. As such, airlines are stepping up investment in nature-based carbon offset programmes – an approach that remains controversial with many environmental campaigners.