The UK aviation industry has announced carbon targets that allow emissions from planes to increase into the mid-2030s. It says buying carbon offsets will result in overall emissions falling compared with 2019 levels.
The move was welcomed by government ministers. But environmental groups said the industry was “trying to have its cake and eat it” and said only reducing flights would guarantee the carbon cuts needed to tackle the climate crisis. Aviation caused 7% of the UK’s emissions in 2018.
The UK’s climate change laws use 1990 as a reference year and, compared with this, the aviation industry is planning for emissions to be about double by 2030. The sector’s peak year for emissions was 2019, which is the year it has chosen to use.
The industry said sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), electric and hydrogen aircraft, and changes to flight routes to make them shorter would reduce the emissions from flying in the future. But under the sector’s plan, emissions would rise in the mid-2030s because of increasing numbers of flights. Paying other sectors to remove CO2 from the air cuts emissions by 15% by 2030 and 40% by 2040, compared with the peak year of 2019.
But compared with the 1990 baseline, when aviation emissions were much smaller, the level of future emissions targeted by the aviation industry equates to an increase of approximately 105% in 2030 and 45% in 2040, according to Simon Evans at the Carbon Brief thinktank.