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Aviation chiefs commit to landing zero-carbon plan

A coalition of British airlines, airport owners and aircraft manufacturers will publicly commit next week to cutting the aviation industry’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

Sky News has learnt that a group called Sustainable Aviation plans to unveil the joint pledge at an event with the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, next Tuesday.

It will mark the sector’s most significant intervention so far in efforts to tackle climate change – although it is also likely to raise questions about the extent to which one of the world’s most substantial carbon-emitting industries can guarantee that it will meet its objectives.

Sources said on Friday that executives from British Airways, easyJet, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow Airport, Manchester Airports Group, Airbus, Boeing and Rolls-Royce Holdings would be among the signatories.

One industry source said the event was expected to go ahead despite the intensity of efforts to deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, which has forced a frenetic response from airlines in the last few days.


They added that it would be “an important statement of collective intent” from an industry which has attracted scepticism about the scale of its efforts to combat climate change.

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Some companies, including BA-owner International Airlines Group (IAG), have already made individual pledges to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – in line with the government’s target.

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A new industry roadmap to be published next week is expected to set out a number of broad measures that will be adopted to ensure that airlines, airports and manufacturers can meet the 2050 target.

These are expected to include the delivery of more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft, modernising the use of airspace, the development of sustainable aviation fuels, and a substantial increase in carbon offsetting activity.

This week, EasyJet said it would trial a full-size electric passenger plane within three years, with the prospect of it entering service by 2030.

IAG said last October that it would invest $400m in sustainable aviation fuel over the next two decades, while 142 new aircraft with a list price of $25bn would be introduced over the next five years, with a 25% improvement in carbon efficiency.

Insiders said the announcement being made next week would outline a “ground-breaking commitment” to cut carbon whilst accommodating a projected 70% growth in passenger numbers.

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The aviation industry will also call on the government to ensure that the UK becomes a global hub for green aviation technologies.

One source said the coalition of companies would also press for a “partnership with ministers” to seek “international action on global emissions and domestic action to support technology development through funding and policy mechanisms”.

Next week’s roadmap is understood to forecast that sustainable aviation fuels could meet 32% of the nation’s demand for aviation fuel by 2050.

Figures compiled by Sustainable Aviation are understood to show that net carbon emissions by the industry currently stand at 30m tons annually.

Tuesday’s industry-wide pledge will make the aviation industry the latest significant polluter to commit to measurable action.

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In recent weeks, companies including J Sainsbury, Microsoft, Shell and Tesco have made various pledges to reduce their carbon footprints.

Scores more companies are expected to make public statements about their plans in the months leading up to COP26, the international climate conference that will take place in Glasgow in November.

The Sustainable Aviation announcement will come amid a government review of Air Passenger Duty, launched as a consequence of the crisis at Flybe, the regional carrier.

Ministers have pledged that any changes to APD would be consistent with the government’s environmental targets.

None of those expected to participate in next week’s announcement and contacted by Sky News would comment on Friday.


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