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Jet Zero Strategy: Delivering net zero aviation by 2050

The early evolution of air travel in this country — from the first commercial flight to the first jet airliner, the British Comet — took just 30 years. In that short time, aviation technology developed at an astonishing pace. But it showed what we can achieve. We now have even less time to transform aviation again. Our target of net zero flying by 2050 is hugely challenging. Not just because aircraft have always relied on fossil fuels, but because aviation is only just restarting in earnest after two years of intense disruption. The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, also given us an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a stronger, fairer and greener way, with aviation as part of the solution to climate change, rather than just a major contributor of carbon emissions.

At current rates, aviation is expected to become one of the largest emitting sectors by 2050. We have to break the link between air travel and rising global temperatures. Aviation’s success must no longer damage the planet. That is why we have developed the Jet Zero Strategy — not only securing a more sustainable future for our climate, but also for our aviation industry, and the critical role it plays in boosting trade, tourism and travel.

The strategy is underpinned by an overarching approach and three principles. We are setting clear decarbonisation goals; in addition to the 2050 net zero target, we want all domestic flights to achieve net zero by 2040 and for all airport operations in England to be zero emission by the same year. We will be setting an emission reduction trajectory for the sector and will be monitoring progress through five-year reviews. We recognise that many of the technologies needed to decarbonise the sector are at an early stage of development and therefore this approach is essential to allow new technology to be developed, tested and adopted across the industry.

Building on the UK’s presidency of COP26 and our launch of a new International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition1 , we will continue to spearhead international action on this issue. We know that domestic efforts alone won’t achieve enough, so we will work closely with other states through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and remain committed to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The 41st ICAO Assembly is a key priority for the UK later this year and will be a vital moment in aviation’s journey to agree an ambitious longterm emissions reduction goal for international aviation that is aligned with the Paris Agreement temperature targets. And for the first time, the sixth carbon budget will formally include the UK's share of international aviation and shipping emissions, which will allow for these emissions to be accounted for consistently with other sectors.

We will also continue to build and strengthen partnerships. The green transition can only succeed with the support and expertise of the sector, wider industry, academia, innovators, international partners, and the public. That’s the thinking behind the Jet Zero Council — a forum bringing together government, industry and academia to speed up change.

The sector will have to undergo significant changes in the coming decades but with that comes opportunities to create new jobs, develop new industries with innovative new technologies, and improve our energy security as a nation, therefore maximising these opportunities will also be an integral part of our approach.

We have already seen real progress, with Phillips 66 producing and providing the first commercially produced sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in the UK. We have committed £180 million of funding to support the development of a UK SAF industry, and our aim is to unlock further private financing to develop our very own SAF plants with a commitment to have at least five plants under construction by 2025. Finally, we want to demonstrate transatlantic flight powered solely by SAF, and we have launched a competition to help the aviation industry achieve that target.

Fuel is just one way to cut carbon. Increasing the efficiency of our aircraft, airports, airfields, and use of airspace, accelerating the transition to zero emission aircraft, developing carbon markets and greenhouse gas removal methods, and helping consumers to make sustainable flying choices are also part of the mix. And government has a role to play in supporting Research and Development (R&D) to take these new technologies to market. For example, we recently committed a record £685 million over three years in UK aerospace R&D through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme.

To see how crucial this green transition is for aviation, we only need to look at its impact on our economy. Before the pandemic, aviation (including air transport and aerospace) contributed at least £22 billion to our economy and directly provided at least 230,000 jobs.

Our aerospace exports, worth £34 billion, represent an estimated 13% of global market share2 and domestic production of SAF could support up to 5,200 UK jobs by 20353. The argument should therefore not be that aviation is too important to change, but that it’s too important not to change. The Jet Zero Strategy is not intended to clip the wings of the sector. Rather it is designed to future-proof aviation so passengers can look forward to guilt-free travel. In doing so our economy can reduce its dependence on dirty energy. We can unlock the benefits of green technology and the thousands of new skilled jobs that come with it. And aviation, often criticised for its contribution to climate breakdown, can safeguard its future through a more sustainable industrial model. Aviation’s capacity for innovation has long been evident and it must once again, embrace change.

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