An oversight body has suggested that the UK government should consider policy actions to limit the growth of air travel, while warning against relying too heavily on technological developments.

Its comments came ahead of the UN climate change conference COP26, which is due to begin on 31 October and is expected to see countries agree accelerated action to meet sustainability goals.

In a 26 October report on the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy – which was released on 19 October and sets out the country’s roadmap for achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 – the Climate Change Committee (CCC) notes that it had “nothing to say on… limiting growth in flying”.

While acknowledging that “there is a possibility of progress even with little policy action [on reducing flying], given the strong public desire to act on climate change and the possible lasting impacts of the pandemic”, the CCC report suggests that “government leadership, public engagement and wider policy can help accelerate these shifts”.

Environmental impact of airline emissions

Source: Shutterstock

It says such actions are “valuable for reducing emissions directly and for wider effects”, adding that “reduced flying cuts non-CO2 climate effects from aviation”, which it says are of “comparable size” to CO2 effects.

The government is instead relying on “technologies to compensate for a lack of ambition on behaviour change”, the report says.

It highlights the increased use of sustainable aviation fuels and “rapid improvements” in the efficiency of new aircraft as examples of those technologies, but describes such ambitions as “clearly very stretching”, adding that “progress will need to be monitored closely”.

The CCC is an independent body established under the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008. Its purpose is to advise the UK government on emissions targets and to report to parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

The aviation industry has been busy discussing its own roadmaps to net-zero CO2 emissions in recent weeks, including at the IATA AGM, which saw global airlines commit to reaching that goal by 2050.