UK aviation industry reaffirms commitment to net zero by 2050 with interim decarbonisation targets

Five areas have been identified that need further support in order to make sure that the UK aviation industry continues to lead the world in aviation decarbonisation.

Sustainable Aviation Interim Decarbonisation Targets Infographic

Credit: Sustainable Aviation

On 22 June 2021, the UK’s leading airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and air service navigation providers (ANSPs) reaffirmed their joint commitment to a net zero future for UK aviation, setting out a first set of interim decarbonisation targets that will act as milestones on the path to net zero aviation by 2050.

The industry is targeting at least an overall 15 per cent reduction in net emissions relative to 2019 by 2030, and a 40 per cent net reduction by 2040, with the pace of decarbonisation ramping up as game-changing sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), permanent carbon removal and new low and zero carbon technologies – such as electric- and hydrogen-powered aircraft – become mainstream in the 2030s.

These milestones are reflected on a new chart that takes account of the effects of COVID-19 on aviation demand, and compliment an ever-growing set of voluntary industry pledges to drive down emissions fast. Importantly, the announcement also kickstarts detailed work to update by the middle of 2022 the sector’s Decarbonisation Road Map, which was first published in 2020, that is expected to demonstrate even faster potential to decarbonise aviation through technological innovation.  

Decarbonising aviation is a huge challenge, with significant technology and policy barriers that need to be overcome this decade. With the right support, it can and will be achieved, maintaining the major economic and social benefits of the UK’s air links to the world and generating new opportunities for tomorrow’s engineers through highly skilled green aviation jobs. However, the UK risks falling behind as other countries, including the U.S., put in place enhanced policies to support innovation and new fuel technologies.

To make sure that UK aviation continues to lead the world in aviation decarbonisation, further support is needed in five areas that are critical to realising net-zero flight:

  1. Key policies in 2021 to deliver a UK SAF industry and to commercialise SAF, most urgently by providing a demand signal and price support – this would be the primer for up to 14 UK plants generating sustainable fuel from household and industrial waste by the middle 2030s, supporting at least a 32 per cent reduction in emissions from UK aviation by 2050
  2. A positive, long-term signal for investment in aerospace technology and the development of hybrid, electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft through increased and extended funding for the Aerospace Technology Institute
  3. The completion of vital airspace modernisation, generating significant carbon savings through more efficient flying and shorter journey times
  4. Policies that incentivise the commercialisation of carbon removal technologies that enable carbon neutral or carbon negative aviation fuel, allowing the aviation industry to address any remaining residual emissions
  5. UK government to seek a more robust international commitment for aviation carbon reduction at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly in 2022, ensuring that emissions are reduced across the globe and not exported from the UK. 

The UK’s Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, said in response: “As the first major economy in the world to commit to net zero by 2050, we are leading the charge to cut aviation emissions through the Jet Zero Council. The commitment shown here by industry today builds on that work, embodying the forward thinking attitude that we need to decarbonise the sector and put the UK at the forefront of green aviation.”

Commenting on the launch of these targets, the UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industry Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, said: “These targets are an important milestone for the British aviation industry and show that airports, aerospace manufacturers and airlines share in our ambition to adopt the new and emerging technologies that are necessary to fight climate change. Working with industry through our Jet Zero Council, we are putting the decarbonisation of the aviation sector at the centre of our plans to build back greener from the pandemic, and this industry roadmap compliments our vision perfectly.”

The Chair of Sustainable Aviation, Adam Morton, said: “UK aviation led the world in 2020 by being the first national aviation body in the world to commit to net zero by 2050. We are now raising the bar by committing to additional interim milestones to hold ourselves accountable on this journey to Jet Zero. This is ambitious but achievable, and requires meaningful cooperation between industry and the UK government, as well as the necessary policies and funding to ensure that the UK can build a world-leading SAF industry, create new clean aircraft and modernise British airspace.”

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