Climate Change Committee advises government to act to reduce demand for flying
The UK government’s independent advisors on climate, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), produced their assessment of the UK Net Zero Strategy, which was published on 19th October. On aviation the CCC say the government is not doing enough to reduce demand for flights. They have also not shown how to achieve their ambition of cutting the demand for road travel, or meat eating. The CCC warns a “techno-centric” approach to cutting emissions adopted by the prime minister has a high risk of failure. Boris Johnson has regularly promised that climate change can be tackled without what he calls “hairshirtery”. Nick Eyre, Professor of Energy and Climate Policy at Oxford University said: “The PM’s headline about not changing the way we use energy is not just helpful – it’s unrealistic. We won’t reach climate goals unless there’s a combination of technology and behaviour change.” The CCC warns that the Treasury still lacks policies to cut emissions. They point out that the government hopes for 10% of SAF used by planes by 2030, while the CCC consider it might be 2% (at best). They hope demand for flights will reduce, if not by government policy, by increased public awareness of the severity of global heating.
Climate change: Make people fly less, ministers told
By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst @rharrabin
The government has been blamed for failing to reduce demand for flying and meat-eating as part of its plans to rein in climate change.
The Climate Change Committee advisory body says ministers also have not shown how to achieve their ambition of cutting the demand for road travel.
It warns a “techno-centric” approach to cutting emissions adopted by the prime minister has a high risk of failure.
A government spokeswoman welcomed the CCC’s generally positive response to the Net Zero Strategy and said it would meet all its climate change goals.
Boris Johnson has regularly promised that climate change can be tackled without what he calls “hairshirtery”.
Many experts agree technology is needed but say behaviour must change too.
They judge that the demand for high-carbon activities must be cut for the UK to meet climate targets in the 2030s.
The report from the CCC – an independent body advising the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets – comes ahead of the COP26 climate summit which will be held in Glasgow from Sunday.
It says: “There is less emphasis on reducing demand for high carbon activities than in the CCC’s scenarios.
“The government does not include an explicit ambition on diet change, or reductions in the growth of aviation, and policies for managing travel demand have not been developed to match the funding that has been committed.”
The committee added: “These remain valuable options with major co-benefits and can help manage delivery risks around a techno-centric approach. They must be explored further with a view to early action.”
Nick Eyre, Professor of Energy and Climate Policy at the University of Oxford, went even further.
With reference to the PM’s “hairshirtery” jibe, he told a COP26 media briefing: “The PM’s headline about not changing the way we use energy is not just helpful – it’s unrealistic.
“We won’t reach climate goals unless there’s a combination of technology and behaviour change.”
The government’s over-arching Net Zero climate plans unveiled last week showed how almost every sector of the economy should virtually eliminate planet-heating carbon emissions by 2050.
But on the eve of the Budget the committee warns that the Treasury still lacks policies to cut emissions.
It has not explained, for instance, how finances can be raised for a massive investment in clean electricity, or how a great home insulation programme will be prompted and supported.
The committee said: “Currently vague plans must be quickly pinned down for improving home energy efficiency for the 60% of UK households that are owner-occupiers but not in fuel poverty.”
More policies are needed, too, to curb emissions from land use and farming, it says.
The criticisms are tempered by praise for the sweeping nature of the government’s Net Zero Strategy, which is thought to be the first in the world to demonstrate how emissions can be cut across the board.
The report says the strategy is achievable and affordable, and will create many jobs.
CCC chairman Lord Deben said: “This is a genuine step forward. The UK was the first major industrialised nation to set Net Zero into law – now we have policy plans to get us there.
“Ministers have made the big decisions – to decarbonise the power sector by 2035, to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles, to back heat pumps for homes.
“They have proposed policies to do it. I applaud their ambition but now they must deliver these goals and fill in the remaining gaps in funding and implementation.”
This may prove easier said than done, because there is currently a gulf between the government’s climate promises and its achievements.
The CCC recently judged that ministers had only achieved around a fifth of the carbon cuts needed to meet previous climate targets.
The COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow in November is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. Almost 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions, and it could lead to major changes to our everyday lives.
A government spokeswoman said: “We value the Climate Change Committee’s expert advice as we work to implement our comprehensive plan to finish the job and eradicate the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050.
“As the committee rightly highlights, our world-leading Net Zero Strategy builds on the UK’s proven track record of having decarbonised faster than any other G7 country in recent decades.”
Independent Assessment of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy.
Some extracts, relating to aviation, from the Climate Change Committee’s report:
The Government does not address the role of diets or limiting the growth of aviation demand in reducing emissions, while policies to reduce or reverse traffic growth are underdeveloped.
These options must be explored further to minimise delivery risks from an increased reliance on technology and to unlock wider co-benefits for improved health, reduced congestion and increased well-being.
Under the Climate Change Act, the UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions
targets aligned to the Paris Agreement. The Sixth Carbon Budget requires an
emissions reduction of 78% from 1990 to 2035 (63% from 2019 to 2035), effectively
halving the time to meet the 2050 target that the UK adopted prior to the Paris
Agreement. The UK has pledged a Nationally Determined Contribution of a 68%
reduction from 1990 to 2030, on the way to Net Zero in 2050. 3
These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors,
including international aviation and shipping, intended to be delivered entirely in
the UK without recourse to international carbon credits.
These actions are valuable for reducing emissions directly and for wider effects –
diets with less red meat will tend to be healthier and release land for carbon
sequestration, and reduced flying cuts non-CO2 climate effects from aviation
(which are of comparable size to the CO2 effects). We note that in each of these
areas there is a possibility of progress even with little policy action, given the strong
public desire to act on climate change and the possible lasting impacts of the
pandemic. However, Government leadership, public engagement and wider
policy can help accelerate these shifts
Substantial progress will be needed from technologies to compensate for a lack of
ambition on behaviour change. The Government plans assume this comes from
sustainable aviation fuels and rapid improvements in new aircraft efficiency in
Sustainable aviation fuel blending
10% of fuel use by 2030 is the government’s ambition.
But 2% of fuel use by 2030 is the CCC pathway.
Rapid deployment of a portfolio of low- and zero-carbon electricity
generation technologies to meet the 2035 power decarbonisation target,
which will keep in play scenarios for Net Zero with considerably higher
electricity demand (e.g. due to larger roles for electricity-hungry options
such as ‘green’ hydrogen from electrolysis, direct air capture of CO2 and
sustainable aviation fuels).
Keeping in play behavioural options such as diet
change and measures to limit growth in aviation will also be important in
managing risks of progress falling off track.
The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and the accompanying
National Infrastructure Strategy set a series of headline commitments across
the economy that could contribute to Net Zero. Key commitments by 2030
included: 40 GW of offshore wind capacity, 5 GW of hydrogen production
capacity, phasing out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 (with
some hybrids permitted until 2035), four CCS clusters capturing 10 MtCO2
annually and 600,000 heat pumps installed annually (by 2028). The Plan
allocated initial funding including a £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio
and kicked off processes to support delivery of the headline goals and
others such as tree planting, sustainable aviation fuels, low-carbon buses
and HGVs, greenhouse gas removals, nuclear power, and green finance.
Job creation was a key objective, supported by the launch of a Green
Sustainable aviation fuels. Subject to consultation, the Strategy set out an
intention to put in place a sustainable aviation fuels blending mandate of
10% by 2030, backed by funding to support UK production. This is above the
level assumed by the Committee (2%).
Aviation and shipping. Development and supply of low-carbon fuels will be
supported through extending the scope of the Renewable Transport Fuels
Obligation, innovation funding and a sustainable aviation fuels blending mandate
The 40% reduction in UK emissions from 1990 to 2019 includes emissions from international aviation and shipping. Emissions trends are sometimes quoted without international transport – which is dealt with separately in the UN process – in which case the reduction has been 44%.
The UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution does not include international aviation and shipping (IAS), in line with convention, but the Sixth Carbon Budget, covering the mid-2030s, does. On comparable bases, the UK’s targets are for a 68% (2030) then 82% (2035) reduction without IAS, or a 64%, then 78% reduction with IAS included.
The strategy also aims to achieve Net Zero in domestic aviation by 2040 and to phase out the sale of new non-zero-emission domestic shipping vessels.
Lord Deben – head of Climate Change Cttee – UK must drop plans for airport expansion
Lord Deben, the Chair of the Climate Change Committee, has told the Airport Operators Association that the UK must drop plans for airport expansion if it is to meet carbon reduction targets. Lord Deben said “There is not any space for airport expansion … The idea we are going to have a whole lot of airports expanding – we are just not in that world.” Currently there are up to 10 UK airports planning physical expansion, including Heathrow and Gatwick. Lord Deben said “The government has to make it easier and simpler to be good and hard and expensive to be bad. At the moment it is often more expensive and more complicated to be good….This is not about fiddling about around the edges … We’ve allowed climate change to get out of hand.” Meanwhile a document produced by the government’s “nudge” unit (the Behavioural Insights Team), about necessary UK behaviour changes, was removed from the BEIS website. It contained a few suggestions about reducing demand for air travel, including encouraging more domestic holidays and more rail travel to Europe – acknowledging that stopping British people wanting foreign holidays, by air, would be very, very hard.
Chris Stark (CCC) on how aviation needs to cut its emissions, only using CCS – which it must pay for – as a last resort
The Head of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Chris Stark, has given evidence to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) on the aspirations of the aviation sector to get to “net zero” by 2050, and the government’s “jet zero” plan. He said aviation, unlike other transport sectors, was unlikely to meet targets for net zero by 2050. The sector should pay for costly engineered carbon removal technologies (CCS) rather than rely on using the planting of trees to claim they are reducing CO2 emissions. And these offsets and removal technologies should only be used as a last resort, after direct cuts of carbon and emissions by the industry itself. He said carbon removal technologies are not a “free pass” for the industry. Removals are expensive, and the sector should pay for them themselves – which would put up ticket prices. It was regrettable that the DfT’s transport decarbonisation plan had not mentioned the necessity of reducing air travel demand. There is a danger that the tech does not deliver. The plans need to be assessed every 5 years, and though that is a difficult choice for government, demand management may have to be considered in future.