UK aviation industry promises net zero carbon emissions by 2050

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
The UK aviation industry plans to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

The UK aviation industry on Tuesday pledged to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, even as it hopes to increase the number of flights in that period by 70%.

The sector can accommodate the massive growth in passenger numbers and still reduce net carbon emissions from the current level of 30 million tonnes of CO2 each year, according to aviation group Sustainable Aviation.

The group includes most major airlines and airports, including British Airways, EasyJet (EZJ.L), Airbus (AIR.PA), and Heathrow Airport.

Members will sign up to the commitment, a third of which will be achieved through a process known as offsetting, according to Sustainable Aviation.

Offsetting involves paying for certain initiatives that take planet-warming CO2 out of the atmosphere in exchange for the greenhouse gases generated by its planes.

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The practice faces criticism, in large part because it does not actually reduce the overall amount of carbon emissions.

The new pledge comes as the industry faces increasing criticism for its role in climate change.

British Airways is investing in an initiative to generate sustainable jet fuel from household and commercial waste, while EasyJet said in November it would offset carbon emissions from all of its flights, effective immediately.

“We know aviation emissions will increase if decisive action is not taken, and that’s why UK aviation today commits to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, through an international approach, working with governments around the world and through the UN,” said Sustainable Aviation chairman Neil Robinson on Tuesday.

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Robinson said the sector acknowledged that climate change was a “clear and pressing issue.”

The move was welcomed by the government. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the pledge was “a huge step forward in creating a greener future.”

But it was criticised by environmental group Greenpeace, which said the pledge was a “flight of fancy.”

“Carbon offsetting is simply an excuse to carry on with business as usual while shifting the responsibility to cut emissions to someone else, somewhere else, and some other time,” said Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven.

“There’s only one proven way for the aviation industry to cut its soaring emissions, and that’s managing demand. This could be done fairly and effectively by introducing a frequent flyer levy,” he said.