Green transport plan targets net-zero domestic aviation by 2040

The UK government has launched its transport decarbonisation plan, which includes consultations on pledges to end the sale of new polluting road vehicles by 2040 and reaching net-zero emissions for domestic flights by 2040.

The government describes the decarbonisation plan as a “world-leading greenprint” for cutting emissions from road, rail, marine, and air transport through a “credible pathway” for the transport sector to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

One of the major announcements is the planned phase-out of the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) by 2040, subject to a consultation. The consultation proposes a 2035 deadline to end sales of vehicles from 3.5 to 26 tonnes and 2040 – at the latest – for vehicles over 26 tonnes. The government said in a statement that the production of zero-emission road vehicles alone could support tens of thousands of jobs worth up to £9.7bn gross value added in 2050 while also improving air quality and reducing time wasted in traffic.

The ministerial car fleet will switch to electric by 2027: three years earlier than previously announced.

A spokesperson for trade body the Road Haulage Association said it “supports the goal” of reducing pollution from lorries, but claimed “the means of getting there are unrealistic”.

“These alternative HGVs don’t yet exist. We don’t know when they will and it’s not clear what any transition will look like,” they said. “So this is a blue skies aspiration ahead of real-life reality. For many haulage companies there are fears around cost of new vehicles and a collapse in resale value of existing lorries.”

The commitment comes as the government publishes a green paper setting out the regulatory framework requiring automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of new cars, vans and HGVs.

Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, said: “The transport decarbonisation plan will help to provide logistics businesses with confidence and clarity on the steps they must take on the pathway to net zero. Consultation on proposed phase-out dates for new diesel HGVs should enable business to move forwards with confidence. Rail, shipping and aviation are all essential parts of logistics, so plans to support freight modal shift and develop technologies to reduce emissions across these modes are welcome.”

The decarbonisation plan aims to ensure net-zero domestic aviation emissions, create a net-zero rail network by 2050, and “[lead] the transition to green shipping”. The government is launching a “Jet Zero” consultation to commit the sector to an earlier target of net-zero emissions for domestic aviation by 2040, and lay out an action plan for that target which would not demand a significant reduction in flights.

While major players in aerospace such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus have announced decarbonisation plans, there is scepticism about how quickly aviation can reach zero emissions for medium- and long-haul flights. Airbus has advised EU officials that most of its aircraft will continue to rely on conventional jet engines until at least 2050. A Europe-wide feasibility report into decarbonisation of aviation states that the 2050 target could be met by cutting 92 per cent of carbon emissions through technologies such as hydrogen propulsion and sustainable aviation fuels, as well as carbon pricing and improved air traffic management, while the remainder of emissions would be offset through carbon-removal technologies.

Emma Gilthorpe, COO of Heathrow and Jet Zero Council CEO, said: “I welcome the leadership from government in committing to a target of net-zero emissions from aviation by 2050 and recognising that the aviation industry is committed to delivering on this, too. We look forward to working with government to translate this ambition to action and deliver a future where people can continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel – without worrying about their impact on the environment.”

Announcing the plan, the transport secretary Grant Shapps commented: “Transport is not just how you get around. It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, cities and countryside, our living standards and our health. It can shape all those things for good or for bad. Decarbonisation is not just some technocratic process. It’s about how we make sure that transport shapes quality of life and the economy in ways that are good.

“It’s not about stopping people doing things: it’s about doing the same things differently. We will still fly on holiday, but in more efficient aircraft, using sustainable fuel. We will still drive, but increasingly in zero-emission cars,” he continued. “The Transport decarbonisation plan is just the start – we will need continued efforts and collaboration to deliver its ambitious commitments, which will ultimately create sustainable economic growth through healthier communities as we build back greener.”

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