‘Now is the time’: Aviation and shipping emissions must be brought into UK carbon budgets, say government climate advisers

The government’s climate change experts, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) have told the government to formally bring emissions from the international aviation and maritime sectors into the UK’s carbon budgets to honour its climate change commitments and to give its net-zero target “robustness”.

In June, parliament approved an amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008, which put the UK on a legally-binding path to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But emissions from international aviation and shipping sectors were excluded from consideration. 

In a letter sent to transport secretary, Grant Shapps today, the chair of the CCC Lord Deben said that while the primary policy approach to reducing emissions from both these sectors should be international, “given the global nature of these sectors and the risk of carbon leakage from a unilateral UK approach,” addressing the issue domestically was “strategically important for the robustness of the net-zero target”. 

The CCC said it would require “a co-ordinated cross-government approach to join up its clean growth and industrial strategies, and aviation and shipping objectives”.

The CCC believes aviation is likely to be the largest emitting sector in the UK by 2050 and the most difficult to decarbonise. According to its net-zero emissions scenarios, aviation emissions could be reduced from 36.5 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent (MtCO2) in 2017 to around 30 MtCO2 in 2050, through a combination of fuel efficiency improvements, limited use of sustainable biofuels, and by managing demand growth.

The CCC has warned the government to carefully consider growing capacity in London. Should the third runway at Heathrow go-ahead, the CCC said, this would “likely leave at most very limited room for growth at non-London airports”.

Chris Stark, CCC chief executive said that “now is the time” to bring the UK’s international aviation and shipping emissions formally within the UK’s net-zero target. 

He said: “These are real emissions, requiring a credible plan to manage them to net-zero by 2050. Their inclusion in the UK target will complement international approaches and increase confidence that the government is prioritising their reduction, ensuring the net-zero target covers all of the UK’s emissions. 

“As the UK prepares to host the next major climate summit in 2020, we are well placed to show global leadership on this fundamental issue of international concern.”

Jenny Bates, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the CCC was right to call on the government to include both sectors into its carbon budget, particularly the international aviation sector.

“The aviation sector must play its part in meeting targets and stopping the climate crisis from getting any worse. Expansion of airports, whether at Heathrow or anywhere else, simply can’t go ahead if we’re serious about a decent future for the planet.”

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