The Jet Zero Strategy: the sky’s the limit or just pie in the sky?

By Pearce Branigan, Senior Account Manager.

The publication of the Government’s Jet Zero strategy marked a watershed moment for the aviation industry. The document is one of the most far-reaching and significant aviation policies published to date, adding flesh to the bones of how the industry will meet net zero by 2050.

Having supported clients to be among the 1,500 that submitted responses to the Jet Zero consultation, it was heartening to see that the UK Government had taken a bold, albeit challenging, approach. The target seeks to halve the carbon emissions produced between 2019 and 2050, with domestic flights (which comprise 4 per cent of total UK aviation emissions) being given until 2040 to achieve this. This trajectory to 2050 is based on the “high ambition” scenario, setting industry targets of:

  • 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030 – which is equivalent to the annual energy usage of five million UK homes.
  • 7 reduction year on year from 2030 to 2040, reaching 28.4 million tonnes or reduction of 7 million tonnes on 2030 limit by 2040.
  • 91 reduction year on year from 2040 to 2050, reaching 19.3 million tonnes or a 9.1 million tonnes reduction on 2040 limit by 2050.

The Government intends to implement this through an emission reduction trajectory for the industry, annually monitoring progress and undertaking bi-decadal reviews. The ambition should be welcomed, but serious consideration should be given to whether the targets themselves are achievable and what they depend on.

The five-year delivery plans will be assessed through six methods: system efficiencies; Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs); zero emission flights; markets and removals; influencing consumers; and addressing non-carbon emissions.

Winging it?

The Government has made great claim of its proactive approach. This has included investing £180 million in research and development for SAFs, committing to having five plants under construction by 2025, along with the introduction of zero carbon aircraft.

However, these actions only account for 21 per cent of the intended carbon reductions in the industry up to 2050. Fuel efficiency improvements for airport operations, including the maintenance and refueling of planes along with the ancillary tasks associated with aviation account for a further 15 per cent of the intended carbon reductions in the industry up to 2050.

 

 

The mainstay of the strategy is dependent on existing emissions caps in the form of the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the United Nations Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme (CORSIA), which are expected to deliver over 27 per cent of carbon reductions by 2050. The ambition is that the same (or greater) numbers of flights will occur, but improvements in technology and fuel efficiency will enable the industry not only to avoid breaching the threshold for emissions, but actually lowering them.

Although the technology is there to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, by the strategy’s own admission it is ‘dependent on technological development proceeding at the same rate’ to achieve this. There is no certainty that the required technological innovation will continue at the same rate and if it doesn’t, the UK will have to rely on other areas to cover the shortfall in emission reductions.

As for the remaining 37 per cent, this will come from abatement outside the aviation industry, with no suggestion as to who, what or how this will be achieved.

Where the buck stops

The timing of Jet Zero’s publication occurs at a significant juncture in public opinion. The looming cost of living crisis, with fuel costs rising, has dampened appetite for environmentally inclined public spending and taxes. For some, the cost associated with achieving net zero is proving unappealing.

This brewing frustration has influenced a shift in the rhetoric of the governing party over the previous 10 months. The excitement following the UK’s hosting of COP26 in October 2021 towards achieving net zero remains, but there is now a growing difference of opinion about how to get there. For example, the Foreign Secretary and Prime Ministerial candidate Liz Truss’ proposal to temporarily cut green energy levies, which is at odds with the accepted dogma of 10 months ago to increase or even impose more.

With the medical requirements to travel abroad all but rescinded, the UK population has been returning to enjoy international travel. Households already feeling the pinch of the energy crisis may become less inclined to support the drive to net zero when their annual holiday plans are impacted. Low-income families who anticipate the two-week holiday abroad as a necessity for their own mental and physical wellbeing during the working year may be at the core of future net zero scepticism, when the levies which will drive forward net zero make their yearly holidays unaffordable. This raises the question: has the drive to decarbonise aviation focussed on winning over the aviation industry, while failing to bring the public along as well?

An innovation nation

With public expenditure likely to be reduced after the significant burden of managing the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government must consider alternative measures to financial investment to achieve Jet Zero. Whether easing the pathway to visas for specialists working in this area of research, or by agreeing trade deals with nations who have the materials needed to build these technologies, innovation will be key to unlocking the carbon reductions needed to meet net zero in aviation and the UK by 2050.

For the people, without the people?

The Government should ensure that they engage with the public across all net zero policies, so that their input is both credibly sought and applied. The inherent risk with the Government’s current approach of engaging separate industries and not the wider public, is that implementing a policy for the benefit of the UK population, without consulting the population, may cause their concerns to go unheeded. If no action is taken to register or address any outstanding concerns, then it may prove that sections of the population become indifferent, or even opponents of the very drive towards net zero.

 

Investing in new infrastructure and lowering emissions.  

An oxymoron?  

Or the hardest jobs in net zero?  

For those delivering vital infrastructure and construction projects across the UK, the task could be considered an oxymoron.  

Manufacturing cement for wind turbines. Producing lithium for car batteries. Building production plants for hydrogen.  

Jobs that are not inherently net zero but support the transition present a unique set of challenges.  

We are missing an opportunity to build momentum towards net zero if we don’t explain the industry’s oxymorons.  

Copper has launched a major new campaign to explore these challenges and find The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero.  

Why are we doing this?   

The government’s Net Zero Strategy is filled with promises that have yet to be translated into action.  

Key questions remain – who will cover the cost, how will the skills gap be filled and how will government engage the public?  

When it comes to complex infrastructure, projects go far beyond ‘net zero or not’ and require careful explanation to gain stakeholder buy-in.  

This is the driving force behind The Hardest Jobs in Net Zero, a personal study of people at the forefront of the energy transition.  

What do we aim to achieve?  

  • Move from talk into action – showcase real world stories of the transition that drive others to shift from strategy to delivery. 
  • Improve the odds reduce the risk of projects being misunderstood and delayed.  
  • Create a platform for change – maximise the opportunity for positive political and policy decisions, as well as investment. 
  • Give net zero a reality check – highlight the critical infrastructure investment required to achieve ambitious targets. 

How can you get involved?  

From local councils to multinational corporations, we want to hear about the real-world impact people are having on the energy transition in unapparent ways.  

Share your hardest job challenge with the team: hardestjobs@copperconsultancy.com 

Connor Nichols, Account Executive at Copper, argues that the UK needs to turn its net zero commitments into tangible action, including a comprehensive public engagement strategy that ensures the delivery of net zero is equitable.

As the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) parliamentary report points out, the UK is yet to release a comprehensive public engagement strategy in the three years since our net zero ambitions became law.

The Government should focus on this as a matter of urgency as it moves towards the delivery of its net zero commitments. Tangible action is required now to ensure the UK meets its targets and delivers a clean and prosperous future that is felt equally across the country.

Ambitious targets

In the last few years, and especially since COP26, there has been continued progress on tackling climate change. Over 70 countries around the world have set themselves net zero targets but the focus now needs to be on turning these pledges into tangible action.

With the current cost of living crisis echoing devastation across the world, it has made it ever more important for the international community to focus on the rollout of cheaper renewable energy to phase out dependence on fossil fuels which will decrease energy bills.

In 2019, the UK became the first major economy to legally commit to the ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and has shown itself to be a world leader in addressing climate change. The recent British Energy Security Strategy built on commitments laid out in last year’s Net Zero Strategy including increasing the pace of wind deployment by 10GW, up to 50GW, and pledging billions towards energy independence through homegrown clean energy sources.

Theory into reality

The Government now needs to turn its legislative ambitions into reality and undertake a demonstrative effort to ensure targets become more than just words.

The journey to net zero will require changes that encompass most aspects of our everyday lives. This will extend to the way we commute, how we heat our homes and even what we eat.

Too much change or cost will generate public opposition that will make the UK’s climate ambitions near impossible to achieve. As Copper’s 2021 Public Attitudes to Net Zero and Infrastructure Report suggests, there is a lack of understanding and uncertainty over the costs of the net zero transition which has not been accounted for in Government policy.

The balance between supporting net zero but reducing cost is particularly fragile today as families and businesses across the UK face a difficult economic situation with tightening budgets, rising energy costs, and a reduced quality of life.

This has made the development of a comprehensive public engagement plan ever more crucial to support the delivery of net zero while accounting for the wants and needs of the public.

Developers at the forefront

The plan should be driven by developers of renewable energy and should focus on the involvement and education of individuals, groups and governmental bodies at every stage of decision making.

The Government needs to be transparent and communicate exactly what is being planned whilst ensuring costs and benefits are shared equally. This will support developers in their delivery of a net zero UK that works for the public.

An engagement plan will serve to inform the public how they can involve themselves in the net zero transition, including required changes in behaviour and the available channels that will allow them to express their opinions such as consultations and public events.

This will also feed back into the different levels of government, whether local, regional or national, to help them understand the part they will be required to play.

You can find more information on the public attitudes to net zero in our report.