Analysis: EU ‘more ambitious’ than UK on reducing aviation emissions

The EU has “a more ambitious” strategy to decarbonise aviation than the UK, but both “need to look at measures that affect demand” to speed up progress.

That is among the conclusions of a study by Oxera Consulting, an economics consultancy which regularly produces reports on behalf of aviation.

Speaking at a Westminster Energy, Environment and Policy Conference in London on ‘Next steps for aviation decarbonisation in the UK’, Oxera principal Rob Catherall noted “the EU has a more ambitious longer-term target” on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) than the UK.

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The EU requires fuel suppliers “to move to a 34% SAF blend by 2040 and 70% by 2050, compared with 22% in the UK by 2040”.

In addition, Catherall said: “EU airports must, by 2025, supply electricity to stationary aircraft at gates and, by 2030, at all remote stands. In contrast, the UK is looking for airport operations to be net zero by 2040.”

Both the EU and UK have emissions trading scheme (ETSs) in place for intra-European flights with plans to phase out free carbon allowances for carriers, but he said: “Unlike in the UK, there is also an EU proposal [to] broaden taxes to include kerosene, with a gradual increase in the tax rate.”

An Oxera analysis of the impact of these measures on fares, demand for flights and emissions suggests air travel will continue to grow year on year but at a slower rate than otherwise due to the increase in fares.

Catherall explained: “The policies reduce demand growth for direct flights [in Europe] by 11% by 2030 and 12% in 2050 relative to business as usual, and by 4% and 9% respectively for connecting flights.

The study suggests the EU policies “would lead to net carbon savings of 4% in 2030 and 33% in 2050 on direct flights, and 2% and 24% respectively for connecting flights” and “average fares [would] rise by 11% in 2030, and by 13% in 2050”.

However, this falls far short of the targeted reductions, with Catherall concluding: “More would be needed to meet the goals of a 55% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050.”

He warned: “We should be under no illusion. Emissions won’t be substantially reduced for some time. Making progress on SAF is crucial. [But] reducing demand in the near term is one of the only real ways of making significant progress on [reducing] emissions.

“The EU has proposed to go further with its energy taxation directive. If the UK wants to make quicker progress and have the most chance of meeting its targets, it will need to look at measures that affect demand.”

Catherall also warned that the UK government’s jet zero strategy “relies on assumptions that are challenging” and suggested the need for a “fall-back plan”.

Non-CO2 effects

The non-CO2 effects of flying appear to multiply aviation’s impact on global warming, adding to the challenge of decarbonising the industry.

Department for Transport (DfT) deputy director for aviation decarbonisation Holly Grieg told the conference: “Tackling the climate impact of aviation is not just about addressing CO2 emissions.

“We’re learning more and more about the non-CO2 effects – contrails, nitrogen oxide, water vapour, sulfur aerosols.

“These can have both cooling and warming effects. [But] overall, the impact is thought to be significant warming.”

The DfT established a non-CO2 sub-group of the Jet Zero Council last year “to look at how to address the entire climate impacts of aviation” and Grieg said: “We’re undertaking a huge piece of work to help better understand those impacts and start to get a grip on mitigating actions.

“We have to make sure that, as we’re dealing with the carbon effects of aviation, we’re also dealing with the non-CO2 impacts and not inadvertently increasing one while trying to reduce the other.”

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