National strategy still urgently needed on flying, say Yorkshire climate leaders

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:57


The Government must go beyond existing plans and urgently adopt a national strategy on aviation that ensures climate targets are met in a fair and balanced way, according to experts from the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission. 

The Commission agreed its position on aviation in response to questions from the public about where they stand on the issue. The Commission is now calling on the Government “to urgently adopt and implement a clear, coordinated, regionally balanced and socially equitable national aviation strategy that is consistent with the Sixth Carbon Budget."

Members of the Commission, which includes more than 40 people from a wide range of public, private and third sector organisations across the region, believe that aviation is an especially challenging issue that must be addressed in order to reach net zero targets and avoid dangerous and irreversible climate change. 

The Commission wrote to the Government last week with six policy requests to help enable the Yorkshire and Humber region to take effective climate action, including on aviation. It has today written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper MP, setting out its position on aviation

Professor Andy Gouldson is Co-Director of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission (YHCC). He said: “Given the significance of aviation emissions, and the number of airports looking to expand across the UK, we really need national government to implement an aviation strategy that is regionally balanced and socially equitable. We are in a climate emergency, and it is vital that we reduce our emissions rapidly, across all sectors, including aviation, in a fair and joined-up way.” 

Jet Zero unlikely to deliver

The Government – through the Department for Transport - published its Jet Zero Strategy in July. The strategy has the aim of delivering net zero aviation by 2050. Under the strategy, the number of flights taken in and from the UK could increase by 70% by 2050. Limiting the climate impacts of this expansion would then depend on current impacts being nearly halved through the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels and more efficient aircraft. Residual impacts would then need to be addressed through the widespread use of approaches that remove carbon from the atmosphere.  

Whilst the Commission welcomed plans to reduce the impacts of aviation, the measures proposed were seen as unlikely to deliver significant reductions in emissions this decade, or in time for Yorkshire and Humber to reach its target of net zero by 2038 with significant progress by 2030. A key concern is that the strategy relies heavily on technological solutions such as more sustainable fuels and new carbon removal technologies. If those technologies are unable to deliver reductions in aviation emissions at the pace and scale envisaged, then aviation will continue to have major climate impacts for decades to come.  

What the position paper says

The YHCC aviation position paper therefore calls for the adoption of a more ambitious national aviation strategy that is consistent with the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget. The position paper follows June’s annual progress report from the Government’s climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee, which found “major failures in delivery programmes towards the achievement of the UK’s climate goals”. That Committee has recommended that a strategy be developed by the Government which ensures that the aviation sector acts in a way that is consistent with the Sixth Carbon Budget, which targets a 78% reduction in UK carbon emissions (including those from aviation) by 2035.  

The position paper reinforces the need for such a strategy, suggesting that it is needed for three main reasons:  

  1. to ensure a coordinated and regionally balanced approach to the expansion of airports across the UK, recognising the uncertainties, costs, disruptions and divisions arising because of the lack of such a strategy; 

  1. to ensure that aviation emissions are considered in a socially fair and inclusive way – an issue that is crucially important given that 20% of people are responsible for 70% of aviation emissions; and 

  1. to ensure that aviation emissions are considered in a joined-up way alongside those from all of the other sectors that are working hard to cut their emissions at a more rapid rate.  

Liz Barber, Chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission, said: “No single region can tackle the climate crisis alone. Here in Yorkshire and Humber we are taking the lead by supporting ambitious climate actions that enable our communities and our businesses to thrive as we transition to net zero and climate resilience. We’re more than doing our bit - but on tricky issues such as flying, we need a joined-up and coordinated approach and that depends on stronger leadership from national government.

"We and every other region across the UK - and arguably the aviation sector itself - desperately need a national aviation strategy that is consistent with the Sixth Carbon Budget to give us the certainty to plan for and invest in a more sustainable future."

All members of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission agreed on the need to reduce emissions from aviation, and on the importance of a national aviation strategy. Many members of the Commission also recommended that the Government focuses on measures which would minimise the impact caused by the small proportion of people who are responsible for the bulk of the UK’s emissions from aviation. This could be achieved through greater use of virtual meetings, to replace business travel, and new national tax policies such as a frequent flyer levy. 

Constraining demand for flights through policies such as carbon pricing, frequent flyer levies, or tax reform, were also recommended in the Climate Change Committee’s latest report. 

Most Commissioners also believe greener alternatives to flying should be encouraged and made more affordable so that every individual can choose to live more sustainably without having to pay a financial penalty. This was also recommended by the Climate Change Committee. 

The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission’s aviation position paper was approved at the Commission meeting on 7th September 2022. 

Full text of the letter to Secretary of State for Transport

31 October 2022 

To the Secretary of State for Transport: 

Dear Mr Harper, 

The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission is a unique coalition of public bodies, businesses, industry groups, NGOs and academics supporting the region as it works towards net zero and promotes climate resilience.

We work across the political spectrum and administrative and sector boundaries to do everything we can to promote ambitious climate action in Yorkshire and Humber, a region with a population of 5.5 million and an economy that generates £142 billion a year in GDP.

Last week we wrote to the Prime Minister setting out the areas where we need further support from national government as we pursue these goals. One of the key points raised in that letter relates to aviation – and we are writing to you to call for a review of the Jet Zero strategy and the adoption of a national aviation strategy that is consistent with the Sixth Carbon Budget.

We have today published a position paper setting out the case for these requests. This position paper recognises the aim of the Jet Zero strategy to nearly halve the carbon emissions of aviation by 2050 through sustainable aviation fuels and the development of more efficient aircraft, and the key role to be played through carbon removal technologies in addressing the remaining emissions.

We welcome these longer-term ambitions, but see that these measures are unlikely to be adequately developed or widely enough deployed to deliver significant reductions in emissions in time to help us achieve our goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2038. We also believe that we should apply the precautionary principle and not depend on new technologies until their potential and wider sustainability have been fully proven. 

We therefore call for further action to address aviation emissions at all levels but for this to be delivered in a fair and equitable way, with those most responsible for aviation emissions making the most significant changes. 

In particular, we call on national government to urgently adopt and implement a clear, coordinated, regionally balanced and socially equitable national aviation strategy that is consistent with the Sixth Carbon Budget.

Given the widespread demands from airports across the UK to expand, such a strategy is needed immediately, not least to give the aviation industry the policy certainty that it needs to invest in delivering on its Jet Zero ambitions. The introduction of a joined up national strategy could also reduce the need for costly and divisive local planning disputes that risk undermining broader carbon reduction activities.

The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission has created a national policy forum to allow it to work with the region’s MPs, national portfolio lead MPs, and civil servants in Westminster, to enable it to articulate the region’s policy needs relating to the climate and ecological emergency. We will be inviting you and your colleagues in the Department for Transport to actively explore these proposals with us, and we trust that you too will be supportive of such collaboration. 

We look forward to your response on the above proposals.   

Yours sincerely,

Liz Barber  

Chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission  

Cc: Cabinet Ministers, Shadow Cabinet Ministers, Liberal Democrats Party Leader, Green Party Co-Leaders, Yorkshire and Humber MPs, Yorkshire Leaders Board and the West and South Yorkshire Mayors. 

Further information – Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission 

Supported by the Yorkshire & Humber Leaders Board, the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission was created in 2021 to create an enabling framework that allows the region to respond to the challenges associated with climate change in a positive and constructive way. The Commission draws together the 22 combined and local authorities with key leaders from the public, private and third sectors from across the region. It provides a neutral space for a wide range of actors to come together to create new and powerful collaborations and capacities for climate action.

The Commission is working with business and public-sector leaders alike to promote actions that protect and create jobs, develop education and skills, secure finance and investment, and advance infrastructure and planning to create a resilient and climate-ready region. As well as supporting action on climate, the Commission also seeks to put nature at the heart of decision making and promotes a fair and inclusive transition to net zero. We have produced a Climate Action Plan for the region and are now engaging collaboratively in an intensive programme of work to enable delivery of that plan. 

The letter is also available to download as a PDF