Britain is back in the cockpit. As we bounce back from the pandemic recession, three times more of us flew out of UK airports last summer than in 2020 – that’s 80 per cent of pre-Covid passenger numbers, but with more travel abroad our flying habits are back as a contributor to carbon emissions.
Aviation is one of our most significant environmental challenges. Before the coronavirus, it accounted for 7 per cent of the UK’s emissions. Although overall UK emissions have almost halved over the past three decades, aviation pollution is increasing. As the number of cheap flights has increased and more of us choose to fly, the sector’s carbon impact has increased – its emissions are 88 per cent higher today than in the 1990s.
If we are going to reach net zero and protect the future of the industry, we must rapidly reduce aviation emissions and reverse the trend. However, we should not embark on this mission by limiting our flight. Some propose new taxes aimed at reducing demand for business travel or family vacations. This approach will damage the economy, weaken trade relations and undermine cultural understanding.
This approach would be a quick way for Britons to close to net zero. Fewer people are willing to give up flights for retirement – 9 percent say they are already giving up flights to combat climate change, but 48 percent are unwilling to do so. While 33 percent are willing to pay additional fees to offset their flying emissions, only 3 percent are currently taking this option where it exists, and 30 percent are unwilling.
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It’s no wonder why people don’t want to return to flying. For millions of people, it provides a holiday escape and a chance to explore new places. For others, it’s part of doing business. And for the half a million people employed in Britain’s aviation industry, people’s passion for jet-setting pays their bills. A world without planes would be smaller, separating families and businesses, leaving many communities without a major employer locally.
But through technology and innovation we can reduce our contribution to carbon emissions and keep Britain flying. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) can reduce a flight’s emissions by around 70 percent, and this year Virgin Atlantic will attempt a net zero emissions transatlantic flight for the first time. If we can develop and deploy cleaner fuels and planes without shutting down the aviation sector, it is entirely possible that we will fly to net zero.
With its Jet Zero strategy, the government opted for innovation over restrictions. However, we still lack the right policies to encourage these emerging technologies and industries. We also risk losing SAF factories to competing countries, with President Biden’s deflationary legislation offering huge tax breaks for these businesses to relocate and grow in the US. That’s why I co-signed a manifesto with more than 30 Conservative MPs, providing ministers with policy ideas that will accelerate Jet Zero innovation.
Firstly, investors need confidence to develop and produce SAF here in the UK, so that we can quickly move away from polluting jet fuel. Although five plants are planned here, the industry is on track to meet at least half of the government’s target for 10 percent aviation fuel to be sustainable by 2030. Our offshore wind industry and has reduced costs over time. Creating a price support system to give producers a guaranteed price would win much-needed investment for the sector, create 6,500 jobs, add £1 billion a year to the economy and reduce carbon emissions by 3.6 million tonnes a year by 2035.
Secondly, the industry should pay for the scheme, not the taxpayer. We propose that airlines fund the price support system through a robust UK emissions trading scheme, with a free pass to periodically pollute to raise the necessary funds. This means that if the market price of sustainable fuel falls below the fixed price, any top-up subsidy is paid using the airlines’ tax receipts. If more cash is needed, ministers could consider expanding the existing flying tax to cover ETS-free long-haul flights – not to discourage demand but to fund the future of the industry.
Finally, competition is needed to clean up domestic aviation by securing the future of small regional airports connecting every corner of Britain. Replicating the £1 million transatlantic competition for the first zero emissions flight would be an easy start. Already subsidized public service obligations, such as zero emissions between Scottish islands and Glasgow by 2030, will spur further innovation. If these ideas are successful, the government should consider targeting all domestic flights to zero emissions.
I urge Ministers to consider these proposals. They will help secure the future of the UK’s aviation sector and move us towards Jet Zero by 2050. Importantly, they will win public support for net zero by demonstrating that ending our contribution to climate change does not require sacrifice or sacrifice. Economic growth is lost. By contrast, by supporting British innovation, we can win investment, create well-paid jobs and fly without climate impact.