DfT transport decarbonisation plan … nice-sounding targets for aviation CO2 .. . details on achieving those still awaited

The Government has put out a statement from Grant Shapps and a page on its website about its transport decarbonisation plan. But the plan itself is not yet available, just the introductory text and (wildly optimistic, bullish comments  from Shapps) in order to get the headlines in the media this morning.  On aviation, the plan hopes to decarbonise all UK domestic aviation by 2040. It hopes all UK airport operations will be zero carbon by 2040. It hopes all UK aviation will be zero carbon by 2050. But there is no detail on how these miracles are to be achieved.  Unless there is serious intention to reduce the total numbers of air passengers and flights, it will not be possible to genuinely make flying zero carbon. So far any ambitions by government for this have been either by remarkable, novel fuels (which either have environmental impacts, or require huge amounts of non-emitting electricity which is unlikely to be available), or hydrogen (likewise requiring electricity) or electric planes. The industry itself acknowledges that neither hydrogen nor electric planes are going to enable even the current level of flying, for many decades, if ever.  Government is keen to tell people they can continue to fly, with a clear conscience – and the aviation sector can continue with “business as usual” for the time being.



DfT page introducing the transport decarbonisation plan



On aviation this says:

“Aviation has a vital role to play in tackling climate change, [sic] which is why the government is today also launching the Jet zero consultation, which commits the sector to a net zero emissions target by 2050 and sets out an action plan for how it can be achieved – ensuring everyone can continue to fly for holidays, visits to family and business without contributing to climate change.

Reflecting the fact the UK aviation industry is already leading the way in seeking to reduce emissions from flights, the consultation proposes an earlier target for UK domestic aviation to reach net zero by 2040, as well as for all airport operations in England to be zero emission by 2040.

Emma Gilthorpe, COO of Heathrow and Jet Zero Council CEO, said:

“I welcome the leadership from government in committing to a target of net zero emissions from aviation by 2050 and recognising that the aviation industry is committed to delivering on this, too. We look forward to working with government to translate this ambition to action and deliver a future where people can continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel – without worrying about their impact on the environment. “

Grant Shapps written statement to Parliament


which says

“Today, we are also launching a Jet Zero consultation that commits the aviation sector to a net zero emissions target by 2050 and sets out our approach and principles to achieve this. The consultation focuses on the rapid development of technologies in a way that maintains the benefits of air travel and maximises the opportunities that decarbonisation can bring for the UK.”

Carry on flying, says government green plan

By Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst (BBC)


Extracts relevant to aviation below: 

Carry on flying, the government has told the British public, in its plan to reduce transport emissions to virtually zero by 2050.

Ministers say new technology will allow domestic flights to be emissions-free by 2040, and international aviation to be zero carbon by mid century.

The policy has been ridiculed by environmentalists who say the government is putting far too much faith in innovation.

They say demand for flying and driving must be curbed if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets.

The aviation proposal is contained in the government’s “Transport Decarbonisation Strategy” – part of its master plan for the entire economy to be virtually zero carbon by mid century.

When Boris Johnson hosts the UN climate conference in Glasgow in November, he’ll need policies in place to prove to other nations how carbon cuts can be achieved.

Shapps comments:

We absolutely are committed to getting [emissions from air travel] to zero carbon by 2050, in fact 2040 for domestic flights,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC’s Today programme.

Progress towards low-carbon flying was further advanced than people realised, he suggested.

“We already have electric aircraft, going up in the air, and in fact the UK has become the first country in the world to have a hydrogen aircraft flying as well.

“In addition to those advanced technologies we also have things like sustainable aviation fuel.”

Mr Shapps said the government planned to use sustainable fuel to fly home some participants in November’s COP26 conference in Glasgow.

However, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas described the government’s approach to aviation as “a flight of fantasy” that relied on technology that was still being developed.

“The government should not hoodwink us,” she told the BBC.

Transport is the UK’s biggest emissions source and the Department for Transport has been criticised for doing too little to reduce CO2.

That’s partly because so many transport issues involve difficult political choices, with ministers fearing public resistance.

Mr Shapps said: “Decarbonisation is not about stopping people doing things, it’s about doing the same things differently.”


‘We need coherent steps’

Chris Todd from Transport Action Network said: “We need coherent steps not contradictory actions.”

Mr Todd added that “after decades of dither and delay” in cutting transport emissions, the Department for Transport “remains unable to face up to the facts or take hard choices”.

Building bigger roads for bigger cars – even if they are electric – still has a “major carbon cost for construction and manufacturing,” he said.’Barely worth the wait’

Kerry McCarthy MP, Labour’s shadow transport minister said: “This plan has been a long time coming, but it was barely worth the wait.”

“The government is still stalling when it comes to the tough decisions needed,” she added, citing the rise in rail fares and the cut in plug-in car grants.

“At a time when we should be showing global leadership and pressing ahead with this agenda, it’s clear ministers still have a long way to go.”

Where transport policy is devolved, the plan applies just to England only. Where policy is reserved, this will apply to the UK as a whole and the UK government will consult with the UK nations.

Electric flying not feasible for larger planes or longer distances

There has been a lot of mention in recent years about the possibility of planes being powered by electricity. That has the potential to cut the CO2 emissions of aircraft. However, the aspiration of electric planes is likely to be a dangerous diversion from taking measures now to cut the CO2 from the sector, if it has the effect of creating the false hope of breakthroughs. The reality is that flying needs a very energy-dense fuel, such as kerosene. Currently there are some tiny planes, able to carry under 10 passengers, that may be able to make short flights, of under 1,000 km, in the next few years. That is entirely different from a passenger plane carrying 200 passengers many thousand miles.  Power is particularly needed on take-off, and while climbing. Liquid jet fuel is burned during the flight, so the planes lands lighter than when it took off. The battery is the same weight throughout, putting more stress on the plane while landing. The engines would have to use propellers, and not be jets – and there are limits on how fast propellers can turn. There are real constraints, caused by physics, in the ability of electricity to power larger aircraft. 



Hydrogen very unlikely to be used in long-haul planes; huge problems even for short-haul

There is a lot of hype around about planes eventually being fuelled by hydrogen. This is dangerous, because it gives the false impression that a solution to aviation CO2 is just around the corner, and no measures need to be taken to reduce demand. There are immense problems of using hydrogen in aircraft. Liquid hydrogen, which is easier to store onboard than gas, has to be kept at -253C or it boils off. The tanks to contain it are not only heavier but x4 the size of conventional fuel storage. This imposes constraints on range and capacity for airlines.  It might be necessary to remove 25% of the passengers from a conventional single-aisle aircraft to fit in fuel tanks.  If it proves possible, in a decade or more, to use hydrogen, its use would be confined to short-haul, and could not be used on long-haul, which produce the most CO2 (+ non-CO2 impact). Flights of over 1,500km account for roughly 80% of the sector’s carbon emissions, according to the industry’s ATAG.  Even for the shorter-range aircraft, hydrogen’s deployment would require huge costs for new infrastructure, transport and storage. Airlines could face increased operational complexities and higher costs from mixed fleets. And burning hydrogen generates water vapour, which adds to aviation’s non-CO2 climate impact. 



Unconvincing airline hype about large future use of so called “sustainable aviation fuels”

Airlines are falling over each other, to say how much “Sustainable Aviation Fuel” (SAF) they plan to use in future, and how this will greatly increase their carbon emissions. Ryanair says it will use 12.5% SAF by 2030; IAG says it will use 10% by 2030; easyJet says they will use SAF in the short term, but “we must avoid all resources being drawn into SAFs, which don’t fully solve the problem.”  According to the European Commission, SAF currently accounts for just 0.05% of jet fuel use in the EU, and without further regulation, the share is expected to reach just 2.8% by 2050. There is disagreement between low cost, short haul airlines and those flying longer routes, about whether SAF fuel quotas should apply to all flights, not only short haul. Long-haul air services departing European airports accounted for 48% of CO2 emissions from all operations in 2019, while making up just 6% of flights, according to Eurocontrol data.  It is unclear what all this SAF is going to be made from. One of the very few fuels thought to genuinely be low carbon, up to now, has been used cooking oil. But it has been revealed that there is considerable fraud, with virgin palm oil (causing deforestation) being passed off as used.