Airlines need to do more than plant trees to hit net zero, MPs told

Climate Change Committee head says firms must invest in ‘scaleable’ offsets such as carbon capture

The aviation industry must pay for costly carbon removal technologies rather than rely on using the planting of trees to claim they are reducing emissions, the head of the Climate Change Committee has said.

Chris Stark said aviation, unlike other transport sectors, was unlikely to meet targets for net zero by 2050. He said instead the industry had to use “scaleable” offsets that matched ongoing emissions into future decades, but that these should be used as a last resort after directly cutting emissions.

“We are not just talking about planting trees … I would prefer to see engineered removals matched with those residual aviation emissions,” Stark told MPs on the environmental audit committee.

The processes Stark wanted to see aviation engaging in included investing in growing bioenergy crops to create alternatives to fossil fuel and techniques to capture and store carbon. He said carbon capture was a very expensive process but resulted in genuine negative emissions.

“It is something the aviation sector itself should pay for and therefore will increase the cost of aviation if those offsets have to be managed and paid for,” said Stark. “These are not free passes for getting to net zero … We think that aviation should incur these costs directly and indeed that their commercial interests in those negative emissions will grow if there is a way to bring down the costs of those key technologies overall.”

The government’s “jet zero” policy claims it will deliver net zero aviation within a generation. But Stark said it was heavily reliant on technology to deliver this and the Climate Change Committee believed that the sector would not reach net zero by mid-century. Instead it needed to pay for genuine processes to mop up emissions.

He said the reliance on technology and the lack of any focus on reducing demand for aviation was something that would please the industry. “But obviously a big risk is that the technology doesn’t deliver. It is notable that demand management doesn’t get a look in.”

The jet zero plan, which is out for consultation, is being driven by a council made up of government ministers and leading figures from the aviation industry. The government claims it can cut emissions to zero without affecting the scale of passenger travel.

The consultation document says: “It is a strategy that will deliver the requirement to decarbonise aviation, and the benefits of doing so, whilst allowing the sector to thrive, and hard-working families to continue to enjoy their annual holiday abroad; we want Britons to continue to have access to affordable flights, allowing them to enjoy holidays, visit friends and family overseas and to travel for business.”

Contributor

Sandra Laville

The GuardianTramp

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