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Jet Zero Strategy

Volume 825: debated on Monday 14 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Climate Change Committee about their Jet Zero strategy, published on 19 July, and whether it is consistent with the United Kingdom’s sixth carbon budget.

My Lords, Ministers and officials regularly engage with the Climate Change Committee and its recommendations were considered alongside other evidence in the development of jet zero strategy. The jet zero strategy is aligned with the Government’s net zero strategy, which sets out our economy-wide plan for achieving net zero by 2050 and for meeting our carbon targets.

My Lords, the Climate Change Committee recently red-rated the Government’s aviation plan on the grounds that it

“relies heavily on very nascent technology scaling up quickly”.

Given that the Government’s targets are legally binding, will the Minister say what specific policy proposals are being developed to speed it up and to develop a plan B should that not be possible?

I appreciate that we do not agree with the Climate Change Committee on the imposition of limits to air travel. We believe the technology-led approach is correct. Within the jet zero strategy there are 62 policy recommendations and we are looking to put them in place as quickly as possible. One will be to support the development of a sustainable aviation fuel industry in this country which we believe could, at least in the medium-term, have a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions.

My Lords, several Conservative think tanks have made a number of comments and proposals on managing demand in the aviation industry, including VAT on flights and a frequent-flyer levy. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government have had any discussions on these proposals? After all, it is very likely that their reliance on new technology is not going to be adequate to meet the targets on climate that they have set in time.

As I alluded to in my earlier answer, the Government believe that limits on air travel are not appropriate at this time and indeed would be counterproductive for one of the most significant sectors in our country that is also important for the wider economy. I am aware of various proposals for frequent-flyer levies, and there are many disadvantages to those sorts of interventions. The Government are not considering that at this time.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Minister is talking about sustainable aviation fuels, but they are going to have to come from somewhere. I understand from the jet zero strategy that the Government are aiming for 5 million tonnes by 2050. Is that enough to cover the number of flights we need? Secondly, have the Government assessed the impact that growing that amount of biofuel—I assume most of the sustainable fuel will be biofuel—will have on food prices? It seems we possibly have a policy here which risks indirectly subsidising flights with higher food prices, because at the end of the day we have a limited amount of land.

Our sustainable aviation fuel policy is very clear that we will not be looking for any feedstocks to come from economically viable land that would otherwise be used for food. The sorts of feedstocks we will be using for sustainable aviation fuels will be black-bag waste—biomass—and we will also look at alcohols. There may be another way that we can do power to fuel by harnessing hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the air. There are many production pathways that sustainable aviation fuels can follow. None of them involves the use of biological outputs from farmland.

Would my noble friend not agree that it would be a great shame to restrict the freedom of people to travel around the world in this way? Surely it would be much better for us to invest more in looking at these alternative fuels. There is a great interest in hydrogen in the industry. Can my noble friend confirm that the Government are giving as much support as they can to the various research operations in this country and elsewhere to develop that fuel, rather than preventing people travelling?

My noble friend is absolutely right. We want to maintain the benefits of air travel and to harness the various technologies out there. My noble friend mentioned hydrogen; after I leave the Chamber today, I shall be going to meet ZeroAvia, a company that has a hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft and is looking to scale that up. Indeed, the Government have invested in ZeroAvia and we will continue to invest in hydrogen or other propulsion technologies going forward.

My Lords, my noble friend talked about reliance on nascent technology. One way of speeding up technology has been through the Aerospace Growth Partnership—which I am sure the Minister knows is a joint industry and government enterprise—and its Aerospace Technology Institute. Can she perhaps tell us how much of the money being spent in the ATI is devoted to technologies that will help deliver the sorts of results that my noble friend is seeking?

I do not have the specifics on the exact investment in ATI, but I can tell the noble Lord that, in total, it is £685 million for aerospace R&D. He mentioned working in partnership with industry; that is what is so important and what underlies the jet zero strategy. It is not just the Department for Transport having a think all on its own. We are working with industry and academia, and we have done a consultation that drew 1,500 responses. We will look at the technology; some of it is nascent and some is more developed than that.

For the aviation industry to become net zero, passengers need to be able to access airports through active or public transport. What recent steps have the Government taken to support the building of new rail, bus and cycle links to UK regional airports in particular, and what form has that support taken?

As the noble Lord will know, connectivity to regional airports would be the responsibility of the local transport authority, but the Government have invested significantly in active travel and, in addition, in buses. When it comes to rail, I have just come out of a meeting with Manchester Airport, for example, and it is looking in great detail as to how rail services going to and from Manchester Airport will be able to support its development in the future.

My Lords, the Jet Zero Strategy reports:

“Non-CO2 impacts currently represent around 66% of the net effective radiative forcing”

of aviation—the global warming potential of flying—and notes that the Department for Transport analysis does not take any account of these outputs of water vapour and nitrous oxide at high altitudes. Instead, it commits to a five-yearly review of the evidence. How will the Government deliver net-zero aviation if these effects are found to be significant even with non-fossil fuel aviation fuels?

For once, I agree with the noble Baroness. Non-carbon dioxide emissions are incredibly important, yet the science is as yet unresolved. There are significant uncertainties around the impacts of all the different emissions produced by aircraft, particularly at high altitude. We are looking at the research and will be developing policies once we have had more time to consider where the science currently is.

Earlier on, my noble friend Lady Blackstone referred to “Conservative think tanks”. The only Conservative “un-think tanks” I have heard about spend all their time attacking net zero. Can we get absolute confirmation from the Minister that the Government will stand firm on this against the lobbying clearly coming from the gang started by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, which is hell-bent on continuing to use fossil fuels?

I am grateful to be able to report that I have had no lobbying at all from anybody who is not in favour of net zero. As the noble Lord clearly knows, it is the law and we will be setting intermediate carbon budgets as we are required to do by law.

My noble friend will be aware that in the United States, United Airlines is buying zero-emission electric aeroplanes for commercial flights from 2026. Even if that slips, and it is only for very short-distance hopping, what about the vision for this country? Do the Government have a view on when we can see zero-emission flights, either domestically or internationally, in this country?

The Government remain technology-agnostic when it comes to aircraft. It will be up to the airlines to decide which aircraft best suits their need, based not only on the duration of the flight but on the infrastructure. But my noble friend is absolutely right that there are some fairly rapid developments in aircraft at the moment, and both Airbus and Boeing are looking very seriously at how to decarbonise longer-haul aircraft. From the department’s perspective, we will shortly be doing a consultation on how we get to net-zero domestic flights by 2040.