What’s going on here?

The global aviation industry has failed to meet almost all its own climate targets set since 2000, a new study revealed on Tuesday.

What does this mean?

Climate charity Possible found that of 50 separate targets, all but one “has either been missed, abandoned or simply forgotten about.”

For example, Virgin Atlantic declared in 2010-12 that biofuel would make up 10% of its fuel by 2020. The target was not mentioned again, says Possible. 11 years later, in 2021, the airline said sustainable aviation fuel would account for 10% of its fuel by 2030.

And British Airways had a “30 per cent target for improvement in fuel efficiency”, which it aimed to meet by 2010. But BA seems not to have reported on that target since its 2007-8 corporate responsibility report, and it is unclear if it met the goal.

The study did find one airline that kept its word: EasyJet. The low-cost airline met its 2015 target to reduce ‘fuel burn’ per passenger kilometre by 3%. Possible branded it “unambitious”.

The study concludes that target setting among airlines appears to be a tactic for giving an impression of climate action to the public and policymakers. It does this, the charity claims, to prevent policy barriers to ongoing growth.

Why should we care?

Air travel made up over 2% of global emissions in 2019. And it was responsible for 7% of UK emissions in 2018.

If the UK is to meet net zero, it needs deliberate policies to manage growth in demand for air travel. This is what the UK government’s climate advisor the Climate Change Committee urges.

But Possible says the government may be going against that advice. Its upcoming ‘Jet Zero’ strategy is expected to rely on the airline industry to reduce its own emissions while expanding flights.

Possible said: “How can we expect this industry to deliver on their latest promises when they never met any of their previous targets!?”

Instead of relying on the aviation industry to get its act together, Possible is calling for a frequent flyer levy. It says this is a popular, fair, and easily implementable alternative to manage demand. The government would place a higher tax on individuals who fly more often, like the 15% of people who take 70% of all flights.

Be curious!

Image credit: William Hook on Unsplash

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