UK government must make people fly less, say climate advisers

Boris Johnson’s strategy for cutting emissions to net zero is a major step forward – but will fail to reduce demand for flying, the government’s climate advisers have said.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) said the strategy set out by Mr Johnson’s government last week had left some big gaps, including measures to reduce the number of flights.

The independent committee which advises UK ministers said the new strategy had “nothing to say” on limit the growth in aviation sector or encouraging diet changes away from meat – insisting these steps are crucial in cutting emissions.

“The government does not include an explicit ambition on diet change, or reductions in the growth of aviation, and policies for managing travel demand have not been developed to match the funding that has been committed,” said the CCC.

The committee added: “These remain valuable options with major co-benefits and can help manage delivery risks around a techno-centric approach. They must be explored further with a view to early action.”

The committee has released an assessment of the strategy published by the government last week on meeting the UK’s legal goal to cut emissions to net zero by 2050 – which included action on home heating, clean cars and power, and planting more trees.

The CCC said the strategy was an achievable and affordable plan that would bring jobs and wider benefits. The strategy’s ambitions also align to the UK’s legal targets of net zero by 2050 and a 78 per cent reduction in emissions by 2035, the advisers said.

But the committee said there were still some gaps, arguing that more had to be done to tackle emissions from agriculture and improve home energy efficiency, as well as encouraging some big behavioural changes.

The experts said it government should do more to reduce the demand for high-carbon activities such as flying.

It follows the deletion a document which recommended strong “interventions” to tackle aviation emissions, including curbs on airport expansion and subsidies, from the government’s website last week.

A research document commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – taken down hours after the net zero was published – had urged ministers to consider a series of “interventions”.

In a report released on Tuesday, the CCC also said further plans were needed to improve home energy efficiency in the 60 per cent of UK households that are owner-occupied but not in fuel poverty.

And while there is more focus across government on net zero, that does not constitute a full “net zero” test on all decisions – raising the risk of policy or planning decisions that are not compatible with climate efforts, the CCC said.

The assessment has been published just days before the UK hosts the crucial Cop26 summit in Glasgow, where world leaders will gather to drive forward efforts to combat global warming.

Committee chairman Lord Deben said: “The net zero strategy is a genuine step forward. The UK was the first major industrialised nation to set net zero into law – now we have policy plans to get us there.”

He said ministers had made the “big decisions” to cut carbon out of the power sector by 2035, phase out diesel and petrol vehicles, and back heat pumps for homes. “I applaud their ambition. Now they must deliver these goals and fill in the remaining gaps.”

He said the committee will continues to “hold their feet to the fire” as it was required to under legislation mandating for emissions cuts and to advise UK and devolved governments.

A government spokeswoman said: “We value the Climate Change Committee’s expert advice as we work to implement our comprehensive plan to finish the job and eradicate the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050.

“As the committee rightly highlights, our world-leading net zero strategy builds on the UK’s proven track record of having decarbonised faster than any other G7 country in recent decades.”

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