This position paper was approved at the Commission meeting on 7th September 2022. 


National and regional targets 

  1. At the national level, we have a target of achieving a 78% reduction on our 1990 levels of carbon emissions (i) by 2035. This target now includes both aviation and shipping emissions; together these add c.10% onto the national baseline of emissions (ii) that needs to be brought down to the target level in the next 13 years. 

  1. As a region, Yorkshire and the Humber has a target of realising net zero carbon (iii) emissions by 2038 whilst showing significant progress by 2030. This Commission has found that this target is broadly consistent with a science-based target that keeps the region within its share of the global carbon budget that is consistent with avoiding dangerous climate change (iv).  

  1. However, to stay in line with the scope of the national target, Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission has recommended that the target is also extended to include aviation and shipping emissions from the region. This would make the target more challenging as including aviation and shipping emissions adds c.10% onto the region’s emissions baseline that needs to be brought down to net zero in the next 16 years (v). 

The level of activity needed to meet the targets

  1. As a Commission, we have called for ambitious and urgent climate action across the region and we have proposed a 50-point Climate Action Plan (vi) to guide our activities as we move forward.  

  1. We fully understand the scale of the challenge in delivering on these ambitions and the need to involve people in the process so that we can build and maintain public support and need to ensure that the outcomes of the process are fairly distributed.  

  1. We recognise that realising our net zero targets across the region will require significant actions to be taken across all sectors, and that increases in emissions from one part of the economy or population could mean that others have to do more. 

The significance of aviation emissions

  1. The UK Committee on Climate Change found that UK aviation emissions increased by 124% between 1990 and 2018, while other UK CO2 emissions fell by 40%, and that in 2019 aviation emissions accounted for 7% of total UK GHG emissions (vii, viii).  

  1. Although the Climate Change Committee (ix) estimated that aviation emissions fell by 60% in 2020 when compared to 2019 due to the travel restrictions associated with the pandemic, the Committee predicts that demand will recover to pre-COVID 19 levels by 2024.  

  1. In the longer term, it has been estimated that UK passenger numbers could grow by over 50% by 2050 (x) with many airports planning expansion to meet this expanding demand (xi). 

The Jet Zero initiative 

  1. In its Net Zero Strategy published in September of 2021, the UK Government set out its ambition for the UK to become a world leader in zero emissions flights (xii).

  1. This was then supplemented by the publication of the Jet Zero Strategy in July of 2022. This strategy set out the Government’s ambition to deliver net zero aviation by 2050.  

  1. Under the strategy, the number of flights taken in and from the UK could increase by 70% by 2050.  

  1. Limiting the climate impacts of this expansion would then depend on current impacts being nearly halved through the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and more efficient aircraft.  

  1. Residual impacts would then need to be addressed through the widespread use of approaches that remove carbon from the atmosphere.  

  1. The Jet Zero Strategy also expresses interest in measures that would enable consumers to make more sustainable choices relating to flying, but it does not propose demand management measures or measures to limit expansion of airports.  

The Commission’s position on aviation 

The common, shared position of the Commission 

  1. We are a broad Commission with more than 40 core members drawn from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. As a Commission, we seek consensus wherever possible, but we also acknowledge differences when they arise. 

  1. Across the Commission, there is a strong consensus that we are facing a climate and ecological emergency and that we need to reduce our emissions rapidly if we are to meet our carbon targets and avoid the significant risks and impacts associated with dangerous climate change.  

  1. There is also a consensus across the Commission that aviation is a significant and an especially challenging issue that has to be addressed as we work towards net zero. Everyone on the Commission accepts the need to address aviation emissions, but the Commission includes different perspectives on how best to do this.  

  1. There is also a consensus across the Commission that there is a shared responsibility for aviation emissions. Airports and the aviation sector on the supply side and organisations and consumers on the demand side have vital roles to play, and government has to support positive change with an appropriate policy framework.  

  1. We see that some of the measures in the Jet Zero initiative – such as those relating to operational efficiencies – could make a positive contribution to addressing aviation emissions in the short term. However, we also see that other measures, such as developing new technologies or sustainable aviation fuels, are unlikely to be adequately developed or deployed widely enough to deliver significant reductions in emissions in the 2020s. 

  1. We believe that we should apply the precautionary principle and not depend on new technologies until their potential and wider sustainability have been fully proven.  

  1. We also note the wider land use and sustainability implications associated with the production of sustainable aviation fuels or the widespread reliance on offsetting.  

  1. Finally, we note that the use of aviation is spread very unevenly, with 1% of the population taking 20% of all flights, 20% of the population taking 70% of all flights, and nearly half of all people not flying at all in a particular year (xiii).  

  1. 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.  

  1. 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.  

  1. Given the widespread demands from airports across the UK to expand (xiv), 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. 

  1. 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 position of some parts of the Commission 

  1. Many – but not all – members of the Commission also call for further actions to shape the organisational and consumer behaviours that underpin demand for aviation.  

  1. Those parts of the Commission would like to see large organisations across the region take steps to reduce demand for business flights, drawing especially on the innovations in virtual meetings that have been widely adopted during the pandemic.  

  1. Those parts of the Commission also call on consumers in the region – and especially the small number of people responsible for taking a large majority of all flights – to limit their demand for flights, whether by changing leisure destinations, using alternative forms of travel or flying less frequently. 

  1. Those parts of the Commission also call on national government to adopt taxation policies, including through VAT and air passenger duties, that properly reflect the costs of carbon, and frequent flyer levies that recognise the unequal distribution of responsibility for flying.  

  1. Those parts of the Commission also call on national, regional and local governments to actively promote alternatives to air travel, particularly in the form of high-quality, affordable train travel that removes the need for short-haul flights within mainland Britain and to northern Europe.  


(i) These targets refer our direct (scope 1 and 2 or territorial) emissions, and consider all greenhouse gases (C02e). 

(ii) UK Committee on Climate Change (2020) Sixth Carbon Budget.  

(iii) See footnote i. 

(iv) Defined as a 66% chance of limiting average global surface temperature warming to 1.5°C – see Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) Global Warming of 1.5°C, Special Report from the IPCC

(v) Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission (2021) Climate Action Plan

(vi) See footnote v. 

(vii) See footnote ii. 

(viii) As well as considering the direct CO2 emissions from aviation, it is widely recognised that aviation generates non-CO2 related impacts on the climate due to other gases and particles emitted due to flying. There is some uncertainty over the significance of these multipliers. The UK Government (BEIS, 2021) has suggested that the impacts of CO2 emissions need to be multiplied by a factor of 1.9 to account for the climate impacts of these non-CO2 emissions, but Friends of the Earth (2021) note recent science which suggests a multiplier of 1.7. 

(ix) UK Committee on Climate Change (2020) Sixth Carbon Budget - Aviation

(x) HMG (2018) Aviation 2050: The Future of UK Aviation.  

(xi) UK Environment Federation (2020) UK Airport Expansions

(xii) HMG (2021) Net Zero Strategy

(xiii) New Economics Foundation (2021) A charge on frequent flyers would make post-pandemic holidays cheaper for UK’s poorest households

(xiv) See footnote xi.