The United Kingdom’s bid to decarbonize its aviation industry—a plan that depends largely on self-regulation—is being described as “implausible and credulous,” after a new report showed how little the industry has done to meet emission reduction targets set since 2000.
All but one of 50 aviation targets set over the past 20 years “have been missed, revised, or quietly ignored,” writes The Guardian, citing a report that sustainability agency Green Gumption prepared for the climate charity Possible.
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In 2007, for example, Virgin Atlantic said it would reduce carbon dioxide 30% per revenue tonne kilometre (CO2/RTK) by 2020. It was “a big target”, the company declared, but “we’re sticking with it”. In 2014, Virgin reported a mere 8% reduction from baseline, but pledged to “pick up the pace” from there. In 2020, it neglected to even mention the target in its annual report. The following year, the company announced a new target of 15% gross reduction in CO2/RTK by 2026.
More broadly, Green Gumption found that “unclear definitions, opaque monitoring, and inconsistent reporting made many targets difficult to assess, with many also suddenly changed, replaced, or dropped within the study period.”
Even where targets were met, “many were insufficiently ambitious to reduce aviation’s climate impact.”
EasyJet was the only company found to have met a target. It successfully reduced fuel burn per passenger kilometre by 3% by 2015, Possible says, but missed other targets.
The report concludes that UK airlines’ climate targets “appear to function principally as a tactic for giving an impression of progress and action to address aviation’s environmental impacts to the public and policy-makers, in order to prevent any policy barriers to ongoing growth in the industry.”
That behaviour makes nonsense of the Boris Johnson government’s hands-off approach to regulating aviation emissions, Leo Murray, Possible’s director of innovation, told the Guardian.
“This forensic investigation shows just how implausible and credulous the government’s jet-zero strategy is shaping up to be,” said Murray. “How can we credibly expect this industry to over-deliver on emissions reduction when they’ve never met any of their previous climate targets?”
Citing data from the Air Transport Action Group, which found that the same 15% of people take 70% of all flights, Possible is calling for a frequent flyer levy.
But “the government’s jet-zero strategy is due to be published in July and is expected to defy guidance from the climate change committee that deliberate policies will be needed to manage growth in demand for air travel in order to meet the UK’s net-zero goals,” the Guardian writes.