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Government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector and meet the 2050 net zero deadline mean people "can fly guilt-free", ministers have said, claiming future emissions will not rise above pre-pandemic levels.
The "Jet Zero" strategy, launched on Tuesday at Farnborough Air Show, on the hottest day in British history, has been strongly criticised by campaigners who have said measures to reduce the environmental impact of flying do not go far enough.
The plans, announced by the transport secretary Grant Shapps at the airshow, set out how the government says it will aim to reach the "hugely challenging" 2050 net zero target. It includes targets for domestic aviation to reach net zero by 2040, for so-called "sustainable aviation fuel" to account for 10 per cent of jet fuel by 2030, and for the creation of five plants making these fuels – which come from materials such as household waste, sewage, or used cooking oil.
The government said these fuels offer, on average, greenhouse gas emissions savings of more than 70 per cent compared to conventional fossil jet fuel when fully replacing kerosene.
The strategy also says the government will support the development of zero-emission aircraft, and the development of carbon markets and greenhouse gas removal technologies.
Mr Shapps said: “We want 2019 to be remembered as the peak year for aviation emissions. From now on, it should all be downhill for carbon emissions – and steadily uphill for green flights.
“The UK is setting an example of the ambition needed to tackle climate change, and the Jet Zero Strategy provides a clear path to building a greener aviation sector for generations to come.
“Rather than clipping the sector’s wings, our pathway recognises that decarbonisation offers huge economic benefits, creating the jobs and industries of the future making sure UK businesses are at the forefront of this green revolution.”
But ahead of the release of the strategy, a coalition of leading environmental groups, including Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Possible, Transport & Environment (T&E) and the Aviation Environment Federation, highlighted how the government’s own environmental advisors, the Climate Change Committee’s progress report last month concluded the plans for slashing aviation emissions remain "insufficient" for meeting the UK’s net zero goals.
Helena Bennett, head of climate policy at Green Alliance, told The Independent: “This strategy is placing bets on technologies that we aren’t certain can deliver emissions reductions, while allowing for growth in passenger demand and continued expansion of airports.
“The government had an opportunity to look at managing demand for flights – should technology fail to deliver the emissions savings needed, as the Climate Change Committee recommended.
"But this advice has been blatantly ignored by the government, despite acknowledging they received a high volume of responses to their consultation to introduce demand management measures.”
Matt Finch, UK director at T&E, said: “The Jet Zero strategy lands on the same day as the nation melts under record climate-change induced heat. But rather than a pragmatic plan to fully wean the aviation industry off fossil fuels, it allows the sector to carry on polluting with impunity for the next 30 years. Whilst there are some good commitments, it will go down in history as a missed opportunity".
Meanwhile an analysis of the plans by the New Economics Foundation found that under the strategy the aviation sector’s carbon emissions in 2035 will be around 50 per cent higher than they were in 1990.
The organisation said the government’s claims were "highly misleading".
Dr Alex Chapman from the New Economics Foundation said: “At best, this plan will deliver peak carbon emissions in 2019, but with its plan for unlimited air travel growth, non-carbon aviation emissions will rise, and will persist all the way to 2050.
“Drawing a downward slanting line on a piece of paper and crossing your fingers is not a ‘strategy’. Instead of meaningfully reducing the demand for air travel, the government’s plan is to allow unlimited growth in one of the country’s most climate-damaging activities. This is irresponsible and dangerous. The Jet Zero strategy gambles public safety on miracle future technologies as well as risky and expensive carbon offsetting."
Campaign group Flight Free UK, which protested the launch of the strategy at Farnborough Air Show, described the plan as "pure greenwash", saying some of the technology the strategy relies on won’t be ready for over 10 years, while the use of so-called "sustainable" aviation fuels will not deliver a net reduction in emissions, and offsetting targets were "passing on the problem to someone else".
Anna Hughes, the director of Flight Free UK told The Independent: “The Jet Zero plans show an absolute lack of reality when it comes to cutting aviation emissions. The government is dead set on the continued growth of the sector, whilst presenting false solutions that won’t achieve the rapid emissions reductions that we desperately need to see. Jet Zero relies on techno-fixes that won’t be commercially viable for at least another 10 years, so-called ‘sustainable fuels’ which have no net benefit for the environment; and offsetting, which is just another way of kicking the can down the road."
The announcement of the Jet Zero Strategy comes just hours after the government’s world-leading piece of legislation on reaching net zero was found to be unlawful by the High Court and ordered it to be redrawn.
Climate campaigners won a legal challenge claiming the government’s plan was in breach of the law as it omitted vital details to show how targets to bring down the level of harmful gases being pumped into the atmosphere would be met.