The aviation industry has missed all but one of more than 50 climate targets it set itself over 20 years, according to analysis by campaigners.
Targets on energy efficiency to save fuel, and on increasing sustainable fuels, have fallen foul of shifting goalposts or a “lack of reporting and public accountability,” resulting in them being missed, downgraded or abandoned altogether, the research concludes.
“This is a problem” because Britain’s net zero by 2050 goal “can’t be met without every sector of the economy pulling its weight,” said Leo Murray from climate group Possible, which published the report.
They want government to control demand by introducing a levy on frequent fliers, but the transport department says the report “wilfully ignores” everything else they are doing get the industry to net zero.
Aviation is responsible for around 7% of Britain’s emissions, according to the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC). The vast majority of trips (70%) are taken by a small group of frequent fliers (15% of residents).
Flying is widely accepted as one of the hardest sectors – along with shipping and agriculture – to decarbonise, since sourcing of sustainable fuels is complicated, and hydrogen or electric planes are still years away.
The CCC says flying can increase by no more than 25% if Britain is to reach its target of net zero emissions by 2050, but industry believes it can accommodate a 70% increase while still reaching net zero.
Matt Gorman, chair of British trade group Sustainable Aviation, said “technology improvements means growth in passengers no longer means growth in emissions”.
While passenger numbers grew 30% between 2005 and 2019, emissions grew by just 1%, according to government figures, thanks to increasing flight capacity and things like sustainable aviation fuels.
In 2005, Sustainable Aviation pledged to cut carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre by 50% by 2020.
International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body, said “it’s clear to everyone that aircraft must fully decarbonise,” and hailed the “incredible pace of innovation now taking place into hydrogen and electric propulsion”.
The International Air Transport Association said of three targets it set in 2009, one had been met and two were on track.
One flight a year levy-free, with increasing tax on each extra flight
The UK government will this summer publish its Jet Zero strategy on how to cut pollution from aviation.
Industry says its committed to decarbonisation, but needs government incentives to help with things like boosting sustainable aviation fuel production.
Mr Murray said that since the industry’s track record in delivering “the kinds of targets which are being written into Jet Zero is exceptionally poor,” ministers should bring in a levy on frequent fliers.
Under the policy, supported by government advisers the CCC, one flight a year would be levy-free, with an increasing tax on each extra flight. Government is adamant that its analysis shows such an intervention is unnecessary.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said the report “wilfully ignores” this administration’s investment in technology, fuel and market-based measures “which will help us reach Jet Zero by 2050 without the need for further taxes”.
Zero carbon emission flights on the horizon thanks to hydrogen aircraft plans
Ryanair signs sustainable fuel deal to cut climate-heating emissions from its Amsterdam flights
This includes £180 million to accelerate sustainable aviation fuel and £685 million to develop zero-carbon and low emission aircraft technology.
The researchers analysed more than 50 targets set by industry groups or individual airlines between 2000 and 2021. They say only one target, set by easyJet to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per passenger kilometre, was met, but that it was less ambitious than a broader industry target at that time.
easyJet said its average carbon emissions per passenger kilometre are “already significantly lower than the global industry average” due to strong efficiency and an updated fleet.
Watch the Daily Climate Show at 8.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.
The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.