The UK government’s “jet zero” plan to eliminate carbon emissions from aviation relies on unproven or nonexistent technology and “sustainable” fuel, and is likely to result in ministers missing their legally binding emissions targets, according to a report.
The study from Element Energy, which has worked for the government and the climate change committee in the past, says instead of focusing on such unreliable future developments, ministers should work to reduce the overall number of flights and halt airport expansion over the next few years.
The report, released on Monday, was commissioned by the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) and comes as five regional airports are in the process of seeking approval to expand.
In addition, Gatwick and Luton have announced they will be submitting major applications later this year, while Heathrow has not abandoned its plans for a third runway.
AEF’s policy director, Cait Hewitt, said the findings showed the government’s plan amounted to “sitting back and allowing both airports and emissions to grow in the short term while hoping for future technologies and fuels to save the day”.
“These expansion plans will generate millions of tonnes of additional CO2 each year,” she added. “Until the government sets out a realistic net zero trajectory for the sector, and the industry is on track to outperform it, additional airport capacity should be off the agenda.”
The government’s jet zero initiative was launched two years ago and is part of a raft of policies that aim to get UK emissions to net zero by 2050.
Boris Johnson announced the proposals, declaring a goal of a commercial transatlantic flight that produces no carbon emissions by 2025, a claim that was widely dismissed by experts as a gimmick.
The report adds weight to concerns about the viability of the government’s plans, stating that it is unclear how the Department for Transport would “deliver the technological improvements” it was relying on in terms of sustainable fuel and aircraft efficiencies.
It concluded that ministers should instead aim to reduce the number of flights now – halting airport expansion plans, expanding carbon pricing and taxing frequent flyers and kerosene.
Hewitt said: “[There is] a need for action now, including ruling out airport expansion and limiting demand, to ensure aviation makes a fair contribution to cutting emissions by 2035 and is on a pathway to net zero by 2050.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “We are anti aviation emissions, not anti-flying – we must reduce emissions from aviation whilst retaining our ability to fly.
“Our analysis suggests that the aviation sector can achieve Jet Zero without the Government needing to intervene directly to limit aviation growth, with net zero targets achieved by focusing on new fuels and technology, with knock-on economic and social benefits, rather than capping demand.”