Decarbonising Aviation — [Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:28 am on 21st September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon 2:30 pm, 21st September 2021

Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking. This is line with Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the Chamber.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered decarbonising aviation.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Gary. I thank colleagues for taking the time to participate in this important debate, which my constituents, and no doubt those of all Members, will be watching with interest. My constituents in Putney are under the flightpath and they have plenty of opportunity to have a close connection with planes.

If we are to achieve our net zero ambition and turn the tide in the fight against climate change, we need to fight on many fronts. Aviation is a front we simply cannot retreat from. I am sure the Minister is ready with a list of the ways in which sustainable aviation fuel is going to save the aviation industry, but I hope to hear more than that: about how we can incentivise alternative ways to travel, or not travel, and a new commitment to look again at Heathrow expansion, as it is not compatible with the decarbonisation strategy published in July. Sustainable aviation fuel alone will not mean that we can head off into a new era of guilt-free flying. We must also have a reduction in flights and an associated increase in public transport, if we are to achieve net zero at the necessary speed.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Does she agree that one of the best ways of decarbonising aviation is by reducing demand and that one of the most effective ways of doing that would be through a frequent flyer levy? Given that just 15% of people take 70% of flights, a frequent flier levy would be a fair and effective way of reducing aviation demand.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to look at a range of ways to tackle carbon in the aviation industry. I am disappointed that the “Decarbonising Transport” paper does not include measures such as the one that she has recommended. Too often, sustainable aviation fuel is used to give the illusion of environmental action, but there is a danger of greenwashing because of an over-optimistic assessment of how quickly we can scale up alternative fuel use and how sustainable these fuels really are.

The aviation industry is vital and valued for travel, jobs, trade and connecting us to the world, but it is also responsible for about 7% of global warming and is, mile for mile, the most damaging way to travel for the climate.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. Another factor that needs to be considered is how long aircraft can be used. These vehicles are built to last, so it takes significant time before operators need to replace them or swap them out for ones that are more environmentally friendly. We know that the pandemic has led to some airlines retiring their aircraft earlier than planned, so does she agree that the Government could provide financial incentives for airlines if they choose more sustainable aircraft in the future?

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I agree that airlines need to be able to replace their aircraft to speed up the level of decarbonisation, so we need incentives for that as well.

A return flight from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person, which is more than twice the emissions produced by a family car in a year and about half the average carbon footprint of someone living in Britain. Even a return flight from London to Berlin emits around 0.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is three times the emissions saved from a whole year of recycling.

My constituents in Putney know this all too well. We live under a major global flightpath, so we know what it is like to have thousands of tonnes of CO2 dumped on us every day from above, and to have to suffer the noise from the aircraft. The bottom line is that to achieve net zero, moving to sustainable aviation fuel is essential, but this is an industry in its infancy. Millions of tonnes can currently be produced, but we need billons of tonnes of fuel to be produced every year to meet demand.

We cannot move to sustainable aviation fast enough, so reducing flights must be built into jet zero plans, but it is not at the moment. It will take at least two years for the airline industry to return to pre-covid levels. We should be taking this opportunity to have hard conversations with the aviation industry about sustainability in respect of not only the fuel used but the number of flights taken. We should not allow the Heathrow expansion and third runway plans to go ahead. We should make it easier, cheaper and quicker to take train journeys instead of short plane trips and build in incentives for train travel. France has banned short-haul internal flights where a train journey shorter than two and a half hours could be provided as an alternative. Where are the equivalent bold moves from the Government?

I was pleased to see the Government launch the long-awaited decarbonising transport and jet zero consultation strategies earlier this year. I was also pleased to see the “Green Fuels, Green Skies” competition have such a good take-up and produce such an innovative winner, and to see the first British Airways flight using sustainable aviation fuel just five days ago. However, I am disappointed that the Jet Zero Council has met only a handful of times since it was established last year. Just how committed is it to change within the industry? I am also disappointed with the decarbonising transport strategy. The aviation section is a house of cards: it rests on extremely optimistic assumptions and speculative technological breakthroughs, which are either in their infancy or do not yet exist. It could all fall apart very easily. There is very little policy basis.

To be clear, it is important that we invest in and enable technological innovation and breakthrough; we will not be able to achieve net zero without it. However, the focus should be on what is actually possible and can be delivered now. We need concrete policy, not a wing and a prayer. For example, the Climate Change Committee progress report recommends aviation tax reform to address the imbalances between aviation and surface transport. Will the Minister comment on whether there are plans to look into that?

Can we rely on alternative fuels? In 2010, the aviation industry pledged to source 10% of its fuels from sustainable sources by 2020—so far, so good—yet by 2018, it had managed to source a grand total of 0.002%. Sustainable aviation fuel production today is still less than 1% of overall jet fuel supply, despite being pitched by the industry as the panacea for decarbonisation. It is a wonderful feat of science and technology that the first UK commercial-scale alcohol-to-jet fuel facility has recently been commissioned to be built in Wales. However, the current global target for approximately 50% alternative jet fuel use by 2050 would require three new biojet fuel refineries to be built every single month for the next 30 years. Today, there are just two facilities.

The Government are putting their faith in the market, but the market is not delivering at the pace required to respond to the climate emergency. Airbus is developing a hydrogen plane, which may enter service in 2035, and electric flight relies on batteries that are far too heavy to be used even for short haul, let alone for long haul, so we cannot rely on those. We need a plan B. We need to know what additional policy measures will be required to deliver net zero aviation should the promised technological breakthrough not occur.

That brings me to Heathrow expansion and the need for robust plans to reduce demand for flights. To be serious about decarbonising aviation, the Government must rule out plans for expanding Heathrow. Heathrow is the largest single polluter in the UK and its emissions account for half of all UK aviation emissions. Its expansion proposals allow for 260,000 additional flights per year, on top of the existing 480,000. That would pump between 8 and 9 megatonnes of extra carbon per year into our atmosphere. It will require operational restrictions at other UK airports as well, if the UK is to stay within the carbon budget. That is hardly levelling up. In fact, even the mere act of constructing the runway and the works associated with that are expected to result in an additional 3.7 megatonnes of CO2 emissions up to 2050. Moreover, neither Heathrow nor the Department for Transport have comprehensively considered the non-CO2 impacts of Heathrow’s expansion proposals, which would have a significant impact on the climate.

The long-haul journeys that make up 80% of aviation emissions from Heathrow, and that would make up the overwhelming majority of the additional 260,000 flights per year that would depart from the expanded Heathrow, will not be affected at all by the technological breakthrough in sustainable aviation fuel. There is no avoiding it: expanding Heathrow will guarantee a huge increase in kerosene burn, and the chances of the technological breakthrough needed are slim indeed.

I am sure that many colleagues here in Westminster Hall have followed the legal wrangling and the twists and turns surrounding the third runway. Frankly, this is a question that should never have entered the courts—why has it even got there? Any Government who were serious about achieving net zero would not entertain for a second the notion of an expanded Heathrow. Such a notion is fundamentally at odds with the Government’s own climate commitments and with the Environment Bill that they hope—one day—to pass. It is embarrassing that these plans were again given the green light in the year that we are hosting COP26, and that is not even considering the impact of the noise and the increased carbon dump over the green spaces and people of constituencies such as my constituency of Putney.

It is really simple: either Heathrow can be expanded or net zero aviation can be pursued. It is not possible to have both. At the very least, the Government should initiate a review of the airports national policy statement. However, if they are serious about decarbonising aviation, I hope that the Minister who is here in Westminster Hall today will announce that they will rule out Heathrow expansion all together.

I conclude by putting three questions to the Minister. First, what is the Jet Zero Council’s plan B? If the technological breakthroughs do not happen and sustainable aviation fuel cannot be produced and delivered quickly enough, then what? Secondly, why is the Department for Transport refusing to consider how to disincentivise frequent business travel by plane and make it easier, quicker and cheaper to take the train for short journeys instead of flying, and to reduce long-haul journeys, as was recommended by the Climate Change Committee in its 2021 progress report?

Finally, will the Minister commit to review the ANPS before COP26 later this year, rather than waiting until the jet zero strategy is finalised? Will he also commit to including an assessment of Heathrow expansion in that review? And will he join me and the Prime Minister in lying down in front of the bulldozers should the policy statement remain in place?

The climate crisis is here; it is now and it is real. There is no room for conjecture, complacency or cop-outs. Decarbonising aviation requires decisive action now, not deferred solutions that may not even come to pass. I really hope that the Minister listens closely to the whole of the debate today and to the concerns that are raised, and ensures that the jet zero strategy is realistic and consistent, and contains the bold policy interventions required to deliver our decarbonisation.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport) 2:43 pm, 21st September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary.

I congratulate Fleur Anderson, my constituency neighbour, on securing this really important debate. As her constituency neighbours mine, I obviously share many of her concerns about the flightpath, Heathrow expansion and the impact that unrestrained aviation growth might have on the health and welfare of people—not just my constituents, but people across the country.

I can probably do no better than to illuminate further some of the points that the hon. Member has already made so well. I will start with the Government’s jet zero strategy for aviation. She ably pointed out how the delivery of jet zero depends so heavily upon the development of new technology. As she said, what will we do if that technology is not developed? It seems very clear to me, and indeed it was recommended by the Climate Change Committee, that alongside the technological development that we all want to see, either of hydrogen engines or some other form of technology, we really must see some demand management of our airspace, of flights and of aviation.

The last time I had the opportunity to raise this matter with the Prime Minister and to ask him what he wanted to do about the ANPS, I asked him directly if he would amend it to rule out Heathrow expansion. I was very disappointed that he said it was “a private matter”. I do not think that it is a private matter. For all the reasons that the hon. Member for Putney laid out, it is of the utmost importance for everybody across this country that if we are serious about getting to net zero, and if jet zero is going to be a part of that, demand management for aviation has to play a role, because we cannot just depend on the development of new technology. The very first thing we must do, before anything else, is to rule out expansion at Heathrow airport, so I join the hon. Member for Putney and many other MPs—not just across west London, but across the country—in once more asking the Minister to review the ANPS.

However, I am not pessimistic about the possibility of developing new technologies. I have had some really interesting conversations with people who work in this space, and it seems to me that the prospect of hydrogen powering aircraft in the future is not just a very real possibility, but is actually happening. I have also heard tell of electric flights, and have been invited to go on one. I have politely declined so far. I would like that technology to be a little more developed first—I have heard about those heavy batteries.

It seems to me that there is a great opportunity here for the UK to be right at the front of transport technology. We are a developed economy; we are an island, for whom international travel is critical; and we have the technology, the engineering capability and the will to do this. I believe that decarbonised aviation, alongside many of the other technologies that we are developing to meet the challenge of climate change, can be at the forefront of delivering the green jobs that will be so essential to our sustainable economy in the near future.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. Lady is making a powerful case about the jet zero strategy. Does she agree that that strategy is overly dependent on carbon offsets, and that increasingly, climate scientists are pointing out that carbon offsetting is actually very limited, given that all sectors in all countries need to get to real zero and there are limitations on how much carbon dioxide forests can absorb? Instead of playing accounting games, we should be treating the climate emergency as a real emergency.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. More and more, I hear people talking about adapting to climate change instead of tackling it, and I am really concerned that people are doing exactly that, or thinking about exactly that: operational solutions to enable us to carry on exactly as we are, rather than tackling the problem at its root. This is not just about climate change; it is about biodiversity in all its forms, and it is so important that we come up with solutions that radically reduce carbon, rather than push it elsewhere and pretend it does not exist.

To sum up, the technological possibilities and what they might mean for our economy and skilled jobs right across the country are really exciting, but the Government must publish a proper strategy for how they plan to get there. If they want to prioritise hydrogen, we should make sure that we focus on green hydrogen, and on making sure that the production of hydrogen continues to be as carbon-free as possible. However, what I really want is for the Government to pursue a strategy of reducing demand alongside developing those technologies, and to take the opportunity offered to us by covid—the enforced changes to working patterns, and the facility we have all now gained for using Zoom for all manner of things, including parliamentary debates—to think about our approaches to travel, to really prioritise the travel that is necessary and to think seriously about how we are going to decarbonise aviation.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Manufacturing) 2:48 pm, 21st September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Gary. I rise to contribute to this debate as an aircraft engineer. There are precious few of us—or engineers of any description—in Parliament, and these technically challenging debates are sometimes the poorer for it. Others have spoken about the need to support airports, and I fully endorse that priority. That effort is led in this place largely by my hon. Friend Gavin Newlands, and I am sure he will touch on that topic later on. Similarly, we need to act on the pressing need to support aircraft manufacturing and maintenance in Scotland and the rest of these islands, recognising the tremendous expertise that exists in the sector and the value that it has for the economy.

In this debate, I wish to shine a light on design issues, especially the twin problems of realism and pace within the design dimension, which I feel are not being properly addressed, much less owned. The UK Government talk an average game when it comes to net zero, but the investment and the road map have been pushed out almost entirely to make space for political rhetoric, much of it hyperbole. Perhaps if we put a gun on a new sustainable prototype aircraft, the UK Government would get their act together. With just a fraction of the investment lavished on the Typhoon multi-role combat aircraft, UK taxpayers could have a real global competitive advantage in renewable aviation businesses all over these islands. The absence of investment leaves industry to do what it can, which is good up to a point, because it is the industry’s engineers and scientists who will get us out of the inertia of conventional propulsion systems consuming fossil fuels and into the next generation of passenger aircraft, but they will not do it without game-changing Government investment.

I invite the Minister to agree with me that in the effort to get beyond hydrocarbon propulsion, batteries are intensely limited in their role. With current battery technology, they will always be limited to only a few hundred miles, and even then battery aircraft are some way off being commercially available. They are somewhat of a distraction from the real prize of engineering a solution to medium and long-haul transportation.

The Minister will know that the trouble with using batteries, not jet fuel, is that a craft that sets off with 10 tonnes of batteries will still have 10 tonnes of batteries at its destination. By all means, let us invest in short- haul regional aircraft—locked-up, prototype-tested, type-approved—and get them into service, if for no other reason than that we can then shift the focus on what we really need to deliver, which is a wholesale reimagining of long and medium-haul travel.

The rest of the UK could learn from the extraordinary work being led by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, serving Orkney and Shetland and assisting in the development and proving of short-range commercial electric aircraft. Nobody—certainly not me—doubts the potency of lithium-ion-powered aircraft, but nobody has overcome the critical weight and duration conundrums yet.

I know the Minister will not mind my pointing out that, like me, he is a bit of an aviation geek. I therefore have no hesitation in highlighting aircraft such as the de Havilland Comet, the Fairey Rotodyne, the Harrier Jump Jet and the Avro Vulcan—aircraft developed on these islands that represented a quantum leap in aircraft design and performance—all of which were facilitated by colossal Government investment. Where is that investment now? I do not know how much Government investment went into the now terminated Airbus/Rolls-Royce E-Fan X, which substituted one turbo fan on a BAE 146 regional jet for an electric fan powered by a battery linked to a gas turbine on board generator. It was not the last word in outside-the-box thinking, but I am advised by Rolls-Royce that it was a valuable test bed for high-powered electrical architecture on board aircraft. Other Members have touched on hydrogen, and my personal view is that that is the route out for us. I invite the Minister to set out how he is going to facilitate that.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:53 pm, 21st September 2021

I say to Dave Doogan that that was incredibly informative and really constructive. It was worth coming, if only for the entertainment. That was very good.

As the MP with Heathrow in his constituency, I obviously have a special interest. We have been through a brutal period over the past 18 months. It has been grim in terms of loss of jobs and the impact on the community. There are whole families who are dependent on work at the airport, and the situation has affected the local economy and the way of life and wellbeing of so many people.

My last conversation with the Chancellor before I stood down as shadow Chancellor was about the need to have an aviation strategy to deal with covid, and to build on that for the long term to tackle climate change. I said, although I was not listened to, that the best thing would be to get the industry together—employers, companies, unions and local communities. I said it was better to listen to the unions, because they are more independent of the fight that will go on between individual companies. The unions were already looking at how we could come through the covid crisis and be honest with people about the future. We cannot return to the way it was; we cannot return to a policy of continuous expansion. That cannot happen if we are really going to tackle climate change.

I have five points to make, and I am sorry if I bore people by repeating them in debate after debate. First, there is the principle of doing no further harm. The third runway will set us back and, as we go into COP, undermine people’s confidence that we are serious about tackling climate change. Let me give some background to the Prime Minister saying that he would lie down in front of the bulldozers. At his first election as the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, I asked at my count, which was before his, “Will he make the same commitment as his predecessor, John Randall”—who people may remember is now in the House of Lords—“who said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers with me?” Of course, Boris could not help himself. As soon as the count was over, he got up and said, “I’ll be with you, John.” Bizarrely, when the vote came up in the House of Commons, he was on a one-day visit to Afghanistan. I suppose that was pure coincidence.

Before COP takes place, we need a clear statement opposing the third runway expansion at Heathrow. It is the iconic battleground in this country—and, in fact, in Europe overall—for tackling climate change. I welcomed Climate Camp into my constituency and it turned the third runway campaign from an nimbyist issue into a global one through the publicity and campaigning that took place. Climate Camp was 1,000 people turning up overnight, camping for a week and demonstrating and so on. It transformed the whole debate, but it will be insignificant in comparison with the protests that will take place if the Government try to force through a third runway, so we need a clear statement.

Secondly, we need to minimise the existing harms. That means managing demand, as Caroline Lucas said. The best way to manage demand is, to be frank, through taxation, including VAT and fuel duty, and through frequent flier policies. We should also be assessing whether, in the world of Zoom and Teams, the level of business travel using aviation is absolutely necessary. It behoves us all to question all our transport undertakings, but the Government need to publish guidelines to discourage unnecessary business travel.

Thirdly, as the hon. Member for Angus said, we need a scale of investment in research and development that we have just not seen under this Government or previous Governments, whose policies have been more about predict and provide to meet escalating demand. We now need a scale of investment in research and development in alternative fuels, including batteries enabling short-haul flights, which undoubtedly will be developed. I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from—he knows much more than me—but I think that with such investment, we have in our universities and research institutes the engineering creativity to be world leaders on that front. I am old enough to remember the incredible work that was done on engines including the RB211 up in Barnoldswick, where I worked at the time.

As we develop new methods, the Government then need to step in, as they did with cars, with some form of aviation scrappage scheme. Sometimes I resent handing over money to some of those companies because, as we have seen during the covid crisis, they have used it not necessarily to support the sector or the local economy, but to maximise their profits. A well-constructed scrappage scheme was undertaken—sometimes it is difficult to mention the name—by Peter Mandelson, and it was incredibly successful in transforming the environmental effect of the car industry. That is needed.

Finally, I will make a local plea: we need a just transition. If we are serious about a just transition, it means supporting the aviation communities that surround airports—in my constituency, that means Heathrow, but there are others. What they need now is support to develop alternative economies for the future.

One of the things that I suggested to the Chancellor before I stood down from the Front Bench is that, for my constituents in particular, but also for outer London, west London and all the other aviation communities, we need an individual taskforce bringing together the Government, local authorities, local communities, trade unions and the companies themselves to start planning the alternative skills training that is needed, the alternative investment, and other forms of logistics, including aviation and other employment opportunities. In that way, we can build confidence in the idea that we can decarbonise the aviation sector. At the moment, I do not think people have that confidence.

I make this plea: we are running out of time, and I do not want to keep doing this every year. This debate is like a hardy perennial. I do not want us to keep turning up and having this debate without seeing an awful lot of progress.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:00 pm, 21st September 2021

I thank Fleur Anderson for setting the scene for this debate. There have been some incredible contributions so far, but I want to take a slightly different angle. I agree with the points that other hon. Members have made, and I hope the Minister’s response will encompass some of my thoughts about how we move forward.

I am the MP for Strangford, as people know—if they do not know that after 10 or 11 years, there is something seriously wrong in this place—and I am a frequent flier because I have to be. The fact is that Irish sea divides us water-wise—the Northern Ireland protocol also divides us, but I will not mention that—so for me to come here to work, I have leave from Belfast City airport and fly over here. The journey from leaving the office to getting here takes about three and a half hours. The flight takes approximately an hour. I do that every week, and so do other right hon. and hon. Members—colleagues and friends in my party and others. The hon. Members from the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party travel in the same way because it gets us here within a certain period of time. The alternatives are to go by boat or take the ferry over and drive down. We could do that if we had two or three days to spare, but it eats into our time as constituency MPs. I am a very active one, as others in this House are—I am not saying I am the only one. The fact is that our time is precious and we use it accordingly, so I am a frequent flier because I have to be.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

On the back of the Secretary of State’s statement to the House yesterday, we heard about the aviation industry’s worries about its ability to recover from the economic impact of the past year or so. Obviously, it is equally important that it contributes to the net zero goal. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government must ensure that it is properly supported in its work to decarbonise and is not faced with further unaffordable costs?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

That is exactly what I am going to say. I think there are options for the aircraft sector. I want to make a plea for Belfast City airport, Belfast International airport and City of Derry airport—all integral parts of my economy back home. People in Strangford can travel 25 minutes up the road to Belfast City airport, and many of my constituents work in that airport and at Bombardier—Spirit AeroSystems, as it now is— manufacturing aeroplanes and wings. It is very important that we look at this sector, which is an economic provider for my constituency. If Dave Doogan is looking for work, I understand that engineering jobs are available in Northern Ireland. If he wants to move that way, I am sure we would be more than glad to take him away from Scotland.

I am a supporter of our aviation industry, and in my opinion it goes hand in hand with sustainability. The sustainability of aviation depends on its ability to adapt and find ways forward, and that can only come with clear and adequate support from this place and from our Minister. I greatly respect him and appreciate his hard efforts for this sector. I know from personal engagement with him that he is very committed to it and that his response will be very much along those lines. We can talk about environmental issues—I am an environmentalist—until the cows come home, but if we are not prepared to put the work in to milk the cows, all the talk has been pointless.

Aviation is a major employer in my constituency. It is a world-class, innovative aerospace sector that generates jobs for pilots, baggage handlers and tourism operators, not just in the constituency of Strangford but around the greater Belfast area and across Northern Ireland. All are invested in reaching our goals and targets for sustainability, which is important. Bombardier has a factory site in Newtownards in my constituency, as well as sites in east Belfast, Newtonabbey and elsewhere. I understand the importance of Bombardier/Spirit in aircraft manufacture. Pre-covid, UK aviation employed over 900,000 people in the UK. A lot of our constituents are depending on us to get this right.

When I put my views forward today, I put them forward in a constructive fashion. I am not saying nobody else is, by the way. I am trying to find a way to balance environmental issues with the need to have an aviation sector that can create jobs for the future—to bring the aviation sector into the future with carbon-neutral goals and the support that is necessary to achieve them. That is where we are all united: we have the same goals. We look to our Minister and our Government to deliver on them.

It is clear that stronger partnerships between the United Kingdom Government, the aviation sector and key low-carbon innovation partners are required, and I would love to see them. Maybe the Minister can give us some ideas about how that would happen. Jet zero is possible, but only if the industry is supported by Government. I know that we often say that, but until we get to the stage where it is sustainable, when Government financial support can probably ease off, that is how it will work.

We can, of course, simply require changes to be made, the bare minimum will be done and corners will have to be cut from an industry that is more insecure than ever before. However, if we take this challenge together, we can achieve lasting change and do the right things. That is what we should do.

There is no sense in placing so much pressure on businesses that they cease production within the United Kingdom and simply move to other bases elsewhere, because then we lose the jobs, we lose the economic opportunity and we find ourselves in an untenable position. We should be working alongside them. Other bases and other companies, of course, may not have the environmental measures that are more costly than their profit margins allow. The question is how we do that, and how we encourage and retain the jobs. If we insist on costly changes but ensure that there is support to make them viable, there is an appetite within the industry to embrace sustainable environmental change. That is what we are all saying. The hon. Member for Putney referred to that, as did other previous speakers, and those who come after me will probably say the same.

Sustainable Aviation has highlighted a number of issues where it believes Government support is the key to success, and makes two suggestions. It says:

“Increased investment in the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) is needed, to enable the technological innovations that will make net zero flight a reality, e.g. hydrogen power. The current endpoint of the ATI programme is March 2026, and budgetary commitments are already being made out to then. An extension of funding is vital if the ATI is to continue to fulfil its remit and support clean growth.”

Perhaps the Minister will update us on that.

My hon. Friend Ian Paisley and I are meeting the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Thursday to discuss hydrogen, which previous speakers have spoken about. There are some fantastic thoughts and ideas in North Antrim that will help not only aviation firms but lots of companies. If we look to where the opportunities are, we can achieve change.

With the Government’s recent funding support, aerospace modernisation can help to deliver better environmental performance ahead of more radical innovations. Aerospace is critical national infrastructure that has not been fundamentally upgraded since the 1950s, and a full modernisation programme must be delivered in time. I would like to understand the Government’s strategy on these two critical issues. I know the Minister will give a constructive response to the debate and assure us that, behind the demands, there will be support. That is the way it works. We have ideas, and we need the Government to help us to get to the point where we can achieve a future that enhances the industry, protects the environment and, crucially, protects UK-based jobs in every aspect of aviation. Jobs are as important in my constituency as they are in everyone else’s.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 3:10 pm, 21st September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Gary. I congratulate Fleur Anderson on bringing this important debate to this Chamber. We have had a fascinating exchange of ideas this afternoon. I echo everything that has been said so far on long-term technological changes which are exciting and a great opportunity.

In the meantime, we need to look at the demand for flying and how we reduce it, particularly in terms of cost. It is ridiculous that the cost to the environment is not embedded in the cost of flying. It is ridiculous that I can fly for less to almost any destination in Europe that is over 100 miles away, but to get from London to my constituency, which is under 100 miles, costs more by rail. That cannot be right.

The Government have legislated for net zero by 2050. That is too slow for Liberal Democrats. It is clear to us that, in order to stop increasing climate chaos, we need to cut most emissions by 2030. There is no ducking some of the challenging choices we need to make. Farming, shipping and heavy industry are sectors where getting to net zero is a challenge and so is aviation.

The problem is not currently with flying. The problem is with the jet fuel that powers our aircraft. Each aircraft uses an incredible amount of fuel. A jumbo jet carries about 240,000 litres of jet fuel, the equivalent of one-tenth of an Olympic-size swimming pool. It burns through that fuel at a rate of four litres per second. I am aware that an aircraft engineer is in the Chamber today and that my knowledge pales into insignificance compared to his.

We need to do much better on emissions from aviation and we need to do it fast. The good news is that there are alternatives and today I want to make the case for synthetic fuels. Those are made from hydrogen and carbon captured from the air. In theory, this would mean capturing and re-using the carbon dioxide that is already in the air, rather than putting it into the sea bed. The Government favour carbon capture and storage, but what about being more ambitious and making carbon dioxide itself part of the circular economy?

If the UK invests in the right technologies, synthetic fuels can be just that; properly carbon zero and sustainable in the long-term. As I understand it, synthetic fuels are no more and no less than hydrogen combined with carbon dioxide. However, to be fully net zero, the hydrogen used has to be green hydrogen. I echo what my hon. Friend Sarah Olney has already said: it has to be green, not blue hydrogen because green hydrogen is made from renewables and blue hydrogen is made from natural gas, which is a fossil fuel. That means heavy investment in renewables. Currently, the Government say that green hydrogen is too expensive, but I am still waiting for an answer on whether they have made a proper long-term cost analysis between green and blue hydrogen.

As I understand it, synthetic fuels behave in a similar way to conventional kerosene and can be mixed with kerosene. Therefore, aeroplane engines and aircraft design would not need to be significantly changed. The Government already have an existing mechanism in place to make mixing aircraft fuel mandatory via the renewables transfer of fuel obligation. Gradually, we can use kerosene to get to low carbon and carbon zero, if we reach to the point where we mix carbon dioxide with green hydrogen to get synthetic fuels.

I would like the Minister to look at these alternatives. I understand that scientists from the University of Leeds have made that proposal and are in conversation with the Government. If not, I am happy to put him in touch and would love to be part of that conversation because, to me, there seems to be at least a possibility of a solution. Now is the time for the aviation industry to begin to change, and for the Government to ask the aviation industry for their plans on how to get to net zero.

However, as we have heard already this afternoon, changing aircraft fuel is not the only important thing. In the short term, we must also reduce the number of flights. I fully agree with everything that has been said this afternoon. As the hon. Member for Putney mentioned, France has recently banned short-haul internal flights where train alternatives exist. The Liberal Democrats believe that we could replicate this. The UK should ban flights where direct rail transport is available for the same journey, taking up to two and a half hours, unless planes are alternatively fuelled.

There should also be a sustainable alternative to flying, such as rail. We need good transport infrastructure across the country, and it must be affordable for passengers. As has also been mentioned this afternoon, we should reform air passenger duty to target the most frequent fliers. I disagree with the hon. Member for—

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

Jim Shannon—I should know that. We should target the most frequent fliers and introduce VAT on first class and business travel. We must also ensure that there is no net increase in airport runways across the UK. That is the most important issue this afternoon.

I could not agree more with all hon. Members who have spoken in this afternoon’s debate. The aviation industry has been through some difficult times in the past 18 months—I do not deny that—but it has received a lot of Government support along the way. I believe that the aviation industry can become net zero in time. It will be challenging, but it can be done. We need the political will, the Government’s support, and a Government that set out a clear strategy.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 3:17 pm, 21st September 2021

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Gary. I congratulate Fleur Anderson for securing today’s debate and for leading it so thoughtfully at the start. She said that if we are to achieve net zero targets, we need to fight on many fronts, and that aviation is a front we cannot retreat from. I could not agree more. She also referenced the British Airways’ perfect flight. I am not sure that is a title that Caroline Lucas would have come up with—she is no longer in her place.

The perfect flight was by an A320neo, which flew from Heathrow to Glasgow airport, in my constituency, using sustainable jet fuel. Continuous climbing and descent, with help from NATS, helped to achieve a reduction of CO2 emissions of 62% compared to a similar flight 11 years ago. That shows the importance of utilising all of the tools we currently have as we transition—hopefully—to greener technology, and of airspace modernisation, which I will come to later.

Sarah Olney said that delivery objectives are dependent on new technologies, and pondered the question of “What if they do not come along?”—a point made by many others. The Bill presents a great opportunity for the UK to be at the forefront of transport technology—two points that we can all agree on—and decarbonised aviation can be at the forefront of the green jobs we need for the UK’s sustainable future.

John McDonnell, who I see often in aviation debates, understandably, started off by rightly inflating the ego of my hon. Friend Dave Doogan. I will come on to his contribution shortly. The right hon. Member asked for a clear statement opposing the third runway at Heathrow before COP26, and I suspect that the Prime Minister is itching to give just that. He also floated the idea of an aviation scrappage scheme, but, from the travails of the last 18 months or so, God help the aviation Minister trying to go to the Treasury with that particular request.

Jim Shannon—rightly spoke of the importance of Bombardier to Northern Ireland. He also floated the Northern Ireland protocol and then, frankly, dropped it as quickly as he brought it up. He spoke about frequent fliers and those who had to be frequent fliers—this is an important point—when the alternative is the train and the extra time that that takes. I have some sympathy with that point. I take the train on a semi-regular basis, but I fly a lot more, not just to support jobs in my constituency at Glasgow airport. If I took the train week in, week out, that is a lot of extra time that I would be away from my family and that is not, at this point, a sacrifice that I am willing to make—although my family might give a different answer, if they were asked.

Wera Hobhouse made a very fair point about the difference in cost between air and rail travel. Rail and for that matter buses outside London are far too expensive, in all parts of the UK, and we must address that. She also spoke about the difference between green and blue hydrogen and asked the Government for more considered work on that point.

I come lastly to my hon. Friend Dave Doogan, who brought a level of expertise often missing from these debates. He described the aviation Minister as an aviation geek. He seemed affronted by that, but I am quite happy to admit that I am an aviation geek. [Interruption.] Oh sorry—he is an aviation geek; we have managed to get that on the record, so that is fantastic.

My hon. Friend spoke from the experience of his past career in aircraft engineering and maintenance. I have to say my inbox over the last 18 months has been rather full of communication from engineers at British Airways maintenance about some of the tactics that British Airways has employed. I have been in regular contact with many workers in that sector.

My hon. Friend rightly compared and contrasted the UK Government’s investment in defence programmes such as Typhoon with that in sustainable civil aviation. I also hear his well-made point about the weight of batteries, which is why they are currently not an option on any medium or long-distance flight, only on local, regional or near-regional flights. He mentioned the Vulcan and our great tradition of fantastic aircraft well ahead of its time. That took me back to my younger days at airshows like Leuchars. The Vulcan was an astonishing aircraft. I am not sure it would be within current noise levels, let alone emissions levels, but it was well ahead of its time and was a fantastic aircraft.

We need projects such as the Ampaire hybrid-electric aircraft that is operated as part of the sustainable aircraft facility at Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd at Kirkwall airport in Orkney—a centre that was funded to the tune of nearly £4 million as part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to a net zero country. HIAL plans to decarbonise all its airports or at least make them carbon-neutral. Its chairwoman, Lorna Jack, said:

“HIAL’s mission is to create social benefit and economic prosperity by building Scotland’s sustainable regional airport group of the future.”

The plans are designed to match the Scottish Government’s ambition to be the world’s first zero-emission aviation region by 2040, which is being enacted in a partnership of the Scottish Government, local authorities, Transport Scotland and our airports and airlines—in particular, Loganair, based at Glasgow airport in my constituency. That airport is also playing its part, achieving carbon neutrality status in 2020, as it gets ready to welcome the world in the coming weeks to COP26 in Glasgow.

Loganair, through its GreenSkies programme, became the first UK regional airline to commit to being fully carbon neutral by 2040 to manage and mitigate the environmental impact of flying. While using immediate means of mitigation, the airline is tackling the long-term goal of introducing sustainable aircraft into its fleet, with live trials taking place in the Orkney Islands this summer on developmental aircraft powered by hydrogen and renewable electricity as the first step to fully converting Loganair’s fleet to net zero by 2040.

Orkney seems to be the place to be. It is a centre of world-leading renewable investment and technology, so it is only fitting that that cutting-edge research and development is taking place there. Using renewables for inter-island travel has the potential to not only revolutionise air travel in Orkney, but also help reduce dependence on diesel ferries, a real multiplier effect for the local economy. With the summer’s installation of the world’s most powerful tidal-powered generator off its coast, Orkney is showing how the advanced renewable technology being rolled out today is helping to support the development of the aviation sector of the future. That is only a first step, but as battery and energy storage technology advances, it cannot be long before short and medium-haul flights can encompass fully electric propulsion, making huge dents in aviation emissions across these isles and demonstrating world-leading technology on a day-to-day basis.

The live data shows that Orkney is generating more renewable electricity than it can consume. The iniquities of the network charges and the glacial pace of inter-connector investment that penalise rural and island communities like Orkney are for another debate. Had I got into BEIS questions this morning, I would have asked about that issue earlier. Using those renewables to provide quick, efficient connectivity and exporting energy to the grid for other aviation use will help to shape a future for aviation that is far more sustainable.

There are other routes to zero carbon, such as the ZeroAvia programme, which uses hydrogen fuel cells with a fully renewable cycle from electricity generation to electrolysis and powered flight. Again, that is a technology at its first—perhaps second—step, which has the potential to not only harness renewables in the aviation sector, but also spur development of hydrogen fuel cells and an improved hydrogen infrastructure, with spin-off for other industries. I hope to see real progress in the area in the next year or two, and I hope to get up to Orkney to see these revolutionary passenger aircrafts and the associated infrastructure.

I note that the transport decarbonisation plan has a commitment to consult on, among many other things, a target of reaching net zero by 2040 on domestic aviation only. I understand and appreciate that the aviation mix is somewhat different for England, particularly the south-east, in terms of large widebodies for medium and long-haul routes, but I think it is a little weak to consult on the domestic front. We need leadership, not continuous consultation. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but I think there are four consultations alone, just in the aviation section of the decarbonisation plan. The UK Government should follow Scotland’s lead and match ambition for a zero-emission region for England by 2040, at the very least for domestic aviation.

Decarbonising aviation is also about using what we already have smarter and better—levelling up, dare I say—and boosting efficiency throughout the industry. Of course, as many Members have mentioned, the Scottish Government would like to see a modal shift from air to rail for shorter journeys, but the fact remains that demand for medium and long-haul air travel will be here for some time. The challenge is to minimise its impact and for Government to intervene when needed to regulate and steer investment, crucially, and change. I am pleased that the Department for Transport took on board the recommendations of the Airspace Change Organising Group earlier this year, although, as I have said previously to the Minister, it is disappointing that the Jet Zero Council did not invite a representative of the group to help their work.

Modernising and remodelling the UK’s airspace is another tool that can reduce the impact of aviation emissions. I hope that as the Government take forward the results of the jet zero consultation we see far greater engagement with ACOG as a crucial piece of the decarbonisation jigsaw. Improved connectivity for non-London airports is also vital. Too often, passengers looking to travel outside of these islands are forced to change at Heathrow or another London airport to reach their final destination. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness have been assiduous at cultivating route development to miss out the south of England’s crowded skies, but too often there is a feeling that UK Government policy is led by what is good for those London airports, not for connectivity as a whole. Direct connections from airports outside of the south-east of England to destinations in Europe and elsewhere will help to reduce unnecessary journeys, maximise efficiency across the board and boost regional economies. It is a win-win. The quicker the Government move from their London-centric approach thus far, the better.

Fully decarbonising air travel and aviation is among the biggest challenges in tackling climate change and carbon emissions. It will not be easy, or indeed cheap, but investment in a real strategy now, rather than after delayed and dragged-out consultations will produce game-changing results as we move forward.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:29 pm, 21st September 2021

Thank you, Sir Gary, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson on securing what is a very important and timely debate, given that only a few weeks remain until the UK hosts COP26, where transport emissions will, of course, be a key item on the agenda. We have heard some excellent and informative speeches, including those by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, my right hon. Friend John McDonnell and Sarah Olney, who spoke out against the expansion of Heathrow. Other Members talked in more detail about proposals to decarbonise aviation and some of the obstacles in the way.

Given that it remains the largest contributor to UK emissions, decarbonising our transport sector must be a priority for the Government. Aviation is a key part of that and accounted for 7.3% of UK emissions in 2018. Sadly, we have seen the progress on decarbonisation of transport flatlining over recent years. Progress has been made in some areas, such as in decarbonising the energy sector, but it is disappointing that so little has been done and so little progress has been made on transport.

Aviation is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise, but as we have heard from hon. Members, particularly Dave Doogan, there are solutions. There are sustainable aviation fuels derived from waste; there are electric or hydrogen-powered planes for at least short-haul journeys in the foreseeable future; and there is airspace modernisation.

Ministers in Westminster Hall debates probably hate it when speeches finish early, so there is more time for them to answer. Normally, they can say, “Well, if only I had time to answer all these questions—”. I will ensure that the Minister has lots of time to answer what are quite a few questions from me and other Members.

Where are we on some of the things that are out there? For example, the EU is proposing to mandate the use of blended aviation fuel, and the UK is consulting on more ambitious proposals. Can the Minister update us on that?

On airspace modernisation, I know the Government have committed some funding to sponsors. When I took on the green transport brief, I was sceptical about technological solutions to aviation. I thought it was just a way of deflecting the conversation from managing or reducing demand. Having met lots of companies that are involved in this space, I now see that there is potential, although with the limitations that various Members have mentioned in terms of battery weight, hydrogen storage and the whole debate about carbon capture and storage. I have come to realise that there is more potential than I thought, albeit quite far into the future and not current enough to address the issues that we need to address today.

When I first had a conversation about airspace modernisation, I was fascinated at the extent to which straightening out air travel and avoiding a huge amount of banking, particularly above Heathrow, could make a difference. Can the Minister tell us where we are with that?

I would also like to hear the Minister address future funding for the Aerospace Technology Institute. People who are developing new technologies appreciate the funding that they have had, but will there be an ongoing source of funding? Will that be covered by the spending review? Moreover, a whole raft of airport infrastructure would be needed to support the use of hydrogen planes, so how would that be funded? That is my last question for now, although I will probably have more as I go on.

As I have said, a lot of these developments are for quite far into the future. There is potential for electric planes to be used for short-haul flights and for hydrogen-fuelled planes to be used for longer flights. I am not convinced that there is an answer for the longest haul flights as yet, but action needs to be taken now on emission reductions, and that means that difficult decisions have to be made on capacity and demand management.

The Labour party’s position on Heathrow is clear: the new runway would not meet our four tests on air quality, noise pollution, national economic benefit or our climate change obligations. That is where we stand on that.

I was pleased that we finally have the transport decarbonisation plan. I waited a long time for it and kept being told that it was due shortly. There is good stuff in it on electric vehicles and heavy goods vehicles, but it falls short on aviation. As Gavin Newlands has said, there are so many consultations and, while it is important to consult, they can be a way of kicking things into the long grass when we need urgent action now.

The targets to achieve net zero emissions for domestic aviation by 2040 and for international aviation by 2050 are welcome, but as Caroline Lucas mentioned, they rely heavily on carbon offsetting. That is problematic for a number of reasons. Carbon capture and storage technology is by no means guaranteed to reach a point at which it can be relied on to offset a significant amount of emissions, particularly if other sectors also need to rely on offsetting. More natural carbon solutions such as tree planting do, of course, have a big role to play in offsetting emissions, but rapidly increasing rates of deforestation—whether from deliberate destruction, or from wildfires in many parts of the world—mean that we cannot rely on that either.

Back in July, I asked what proportion of carbon offsetting in aviation is expected to come from engineered carbon removal and storage, and what proportion is expected to come from natural carbon solutions. At the time, the Minister said that the Government did not know, so is he able to enlighten us further today? It is really worrying that the Government cannot come up with a response to that question, because even in its more optimistic scenarios the Climate Change Committee projects that over 20 metric tonnes of residual carbon emissions from aviation in 2050 will have to be offset elsewhere. That figure amounts to about half of the 40 metric tonnes of CO2 attributed to aviation in 2019. With such a large proportion of emissions depending on offsetting, we need certainty about the pathway to achieving these targets, not vague projections and a reliance on technology that may not be ready in time.

I am concerned that this focus on offsetting stems from a refusal by Ministers to even contemplate demand management measures when it comes to aviation. We know that aviation has had an incredibly difficult year and a half due to the pandemic, as my right hon. Friend John McDonnell has said. That is partly due to a refusal by the Government to put forward a climate-conditional support package to get the sector back on its feet, as Labour has repeatedly demanded.

Once travel rates return to pre-pandemic levels, we have a responsibility to the planet to ensure that demand does not soar to unsustainable levels and undermine progress towards reaching net zero emissions, but the Government are simply ducking the decisions they need to make in this area. In its 2021 progress report, the Climate Change Committee recommended that the Government act to ensure there is no net expansion of UK airport capacity. However, just weeks ago, the Government refused to reassess the airports national policy statement, which would have provided an opportunity to do just that.

The CCC also recommended that the Government reform aviation taxes to ensure that aviation journeys are not cheaper than surface transport, as a few hon. Members have already mentioned. However, at the moment, the only open consultation on aviation taxes is advocating reducing air passenger duty on domestic flights, in contrast with the regular hikes in rail fares. That is clearly a ludicrous prospect in the middle of a climate emergency, and it is only made worse when we read the small print and see that this tax reduction would also apply to private jets. There can be absolutely no rationale for that. Any Government serious about decarbonising aviation and setting an example ahead of COP26 would immediately scrap those plans, and I would welcome it if the Minister could explain how on earth a tax cut for the most polluting form of transport can be compatible with a trajectory to net zero. We should be investing in rail instead.

The Government have also repeatedly refused to consider a frequent flier levy to address the fact that 70% of UK flights are taken by the wealthiest 15% of the population. That clearly needs to be addressed. Representations have also been made to me about whether zero air passenger duty on zero emission flights would be one way of stimulating that sector, but I know that that prospect is some way in the future.

With the COP26 climate conference just a few weeks away, it is time for Ministers to face the facts on aviation and stop relying on vague future predictions that will simply not deliver in the timescale we need them to. The climate crisis is worsening every day. Aviation has to play its part, and I hope that today the Minister will come up with answers—things that will start to make a difference now, not decades in the future.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

I remind the Minister to leave three minutes for the mover of the motion to respond.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:39 pm, 21st September 2021

I will absolutely ensure that I leave that time, Sir Gary. This has been an interesting and well-informed debate. I am grateful to everybody who has contributed and I congratulate Fleur Anderson on securing the debate. We have heard from the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and for Angus (Dave Doogan), John McDonnell, Jim Shannon—who need not worry, because he is an institution and we all know who he is—and the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), as well as the Opposition Front Bench speakers.

We all agree that aviation decarbonisation is a critical issue for the UK and, of course, for the entire world, as Kerry McCarthy rightly said. Equally, the fight against climate change is one of the greatest and most pressing challenges for the world. However, while it is a challenge, it also presents an opportunity. I echo entirely what the hon. Member for Strangford said. He spoke about the opportunities in North Antrim. He is right, but there are also opportunities all over the UK as we reimagine the way that we fly, as we shift the aviation sector towards a more sustainable flightpath and, ultimately, zero emission flight. The whole country can then look to benefit from that technology, which I will come on to in a minute. I know that the hon. Member for Angus will be particularly interested in that.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Member, who raises a very good point; I will answer her question when I get to that section of my speech.

I entirely hear the concerns raised by hon. Members, but I feel that the UK Government are leading on this and I want to spend a few moments explaining why that is the case. On our overarching approach, we are confident that by working in partnership with industry, non-governmental organisations, academics and, of course, the public, we can deliver net zero aviation by 2050 through technological solutions and not through restricting the freedom to fly.

I think that the hon. Member for Bath said that the problem is not with flying, but with emissions. I agree with that and I will explain why we will be able to get there. We want to encourage the growth of the sector as it encourages innovative new ways to cut aviation emissions while protecting the benefits of travel, which we probably all agree are cultural, economic and social. It also binds our binds our country together, as I experienced recently when I flew back from Aberdeen.

The Government take this issue seriously and have a strong record on it. We have shown steadfast commitment and are the first major economy to pass laws to end our contribution to climate change by 2050, making us one of the first major economies to legislate a net zero target. We have also set the most ambitious climate change target yet, in the sixth carbon budget, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 78% compared with 1990 levels, in line with the recommendations of the independent Climate Change Committee. Also in line with those recommendations, the Government have formally included, for the first time, the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions, meaning that those emissions can be accounted for consistently with other sectors.

July was another milestone in our pathway to jet zero as we published the jet zero consultation. I hear what Gavin Newlands says about consultations, but I think we should be using the extraordinary expertise that we have in the industry. We must get this right and we need to ensure that we are working and moving forward in a collegiate fashion.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I very much hear what the Minister is sayings, but could he give an indication of the timescales for the four consultations? When will they report back and when will we see action?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will hopefully cover that as I go through. It depends which consultation we are talking about. On this issue, the consultation has closed and we will be giving responses shortly. I cannot give precise timescales, but I understand the need for urgency and of course we will move as quickly as we can.

The consultation outlines our approach to reach net zero carbon emissions—or jet zero, as we call it—by 2050, so that we maintain those huge benefits of air travel, and we have clear goals and solutions. There are five policy levers, which are perhaps better understood as three plus two. The first lever is to increase the efficiency of our existing aviation system. I suggest that hon. Members may wish to think about this in terms of timescale: what happens now, what can happen in the shorter term, and what can happen in the medium term.

On the efficiency of our existing aviation system and aircraft, the hon. Member for Angus will realise that, broadly, if we were to see an airliner fly over us today, it might look similar to one from 30 years ago but it would be twice as efficient—to use very approximate figures—because of carbon fibres and engine technology. Those aircraft efficiencies are happening already with the technology that we have. It is not enough, but it is helping.

The hon. Member for Bristol East is quite right to say that airspace can help cut emissions to ensure that fuel is not wasted. If we are more efficient about the way in which aircraft approach airports, that will obviously help. We passed the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021 in the previous Session. The Civil Aviation Authority is currently reviewing the airspace modernisation strategy and is working to distribute the funds that we gave to further that process. That is the first part: aircraft and airspace.

The second part is about developing ambitious plans for a UK sustainable aviation fuel industry. I will come to that in a bit more detail in a moment. That is not the immediate progress, but the next stage. The third part is about accelerating the development of zero emission flight. That is the sort of thing that we see on the front of the more advanced, new airframe types—the futuristic things that we read about. Those are the first three parts, which go together—that is why I say there are three plus two. The fourth aspect is about developing carbon markets and greenhouse gas removal methods, while is the fifth is about how we influence consumers to make sustainable travel choices, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members.

Through the strategy, we will commit the UK aviation sector to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, but we want to go further. We have consulted on a UK domestic aviation target by 2040. We have also consulted on our ambitious proposals to reduce emissions from airport operations, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, and sought views on what additional measures might be required in order to achieve that. As I have said to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, the consultation has closed and we are considering that at the moment.

I want to update the House on the Jet Zero Council, which is the partnership between industry and senior leaders in aviation, aerospace, and academia that is driving the delivery of new technologies. It also involves the Royal Air Force, which joined recently, and I am very excited and encouraged about. I encourage all hon. Members to look at the excellent work that the Air Force is doing on net zero, particularly the leading work taking place at RAF Brize Norton in my constituency.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport)

Are trade unions involved at any of the Jet Zero Council discussions?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I am grateful to her for it. I have a great deal of sympathy with people who ask for the membership of the Jet Zero Council. We have to have a finite number of people on the council, simply because it is a technical body and has to be able to produce results, but trade unions are involved in the sub-groups, which I will spend a moment talking about, particularly to put right some of the misunderstandings.

In June, we had the successful third meeting of the Jet Zero Council. The hon. Member for Putney said that she was disappointed that it had not met. I know what she means, but I ask her to remember that it is a plenary body. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding; I hope I can put it right. At that stage, the Transport Secretary announced plans to formalise and broaden the zero emission flight delivery group, and to establish new sub-groups on ground infrastructure, regulation and commercialisation. I will come to the sub-groups in a moment.

Emma Gilthorpe, the Jet Zero Council chief executive officer, has established new governance arrangements and is really driving them forward. There are two key workstreams at present: sustainable aviation fuels and zero emissions flight. She has also been holding the momentum in between the council meetings because, as we all know, often the work takes place in between, rather than at, meetings, at which people report. If I can put right the misunderstanding that the hon. Member for Putney perhaps fell into inadvertently, the most recent meeting was the 29th meeting across the council’s delivery groups, sub-groups, steering group and plenary council. I hope that that helps and reassures the House about some of the things that we are doing.

I want to spend a few moments talking about sustainable aviation fuels, because they are so important. This is where I will come to the points made by the hon. Member for Bath. It is possible to drop fuels into existing aircraft types, and the synthetic fuels that she mentioned are a form of sustainable aviation fuel. That is part of the mix that is being considered. As I will explain in a moment, the Government are essentially providing the initial money to develop all of those things. I will give her another good example in a moment. This is the sort of thing that we often read about in the papers—turning waste into jet fuel, for example, which is one good example of what can be done with waste, although I accept that perhaps there will be a need for more than that.

The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan announced a package of exciting measures that are designed to introduce the production and use of sustainable aviation fuel. The £15 million “Green Fuels, Green Skies” competition aims to support innovative SAF production technologies at commercial scale, so that they can be produced in the UK and then reduce emissions in the UK. Eight projects have recently been shortlisted for funding. If hon. Members would care to look at the website—I think that the hon. Member for Bath will be particularly interested—they will see that the first project listed, which was in July, combines carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere with water. It is direct air carbon capture and storage, which I think is what she was asking me about. That is one of the shortlisted projects. Essentially, the answer to her question, “Are synthetic fuels being considered as part of SAF?”, is that they are certainly part of the technological mix, and what we are doing is putting in the money to see them developed. I hope that answer assists her.

The £3 million for a SAF clearing house to build and further develop UK testing and certification expertise is a big part of this process as well. We have also finished consulting on proposals for a sustainable aviation fuels mandate to drive the development and uptake of SAF, which also provides greater support for the development of synthetic fuels, which the hon. Member talked about, as we look to maximise their development.

The consultation sets out a variety of potential SAF uptake scenarios, going up to 10% SAF by 2030 and 75% by 2050, but I am really keen to emphasise the point that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North made, which is that this is not fantasy stuff—it is happening right now, as we heard from him when he talked about the recent British Airways flight to his constituency.

I will try my best to respond to everyone’s points, Sir Gary; I am conscious that I may run out of time, as I want to leave some time for the hon. Member for Putney to respond to the debate.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

On zero emission flights, we are working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the new aircraft technology that we have all heard a great deal about today.

The Government have invested heavily in aerospace research and development—£3.9 billion of match funding, from 2013 to 2026, guided by the Aerospace Technology Institute. The hon. Member for Angus listed some of the great British aircraft from the past—we could be here all afternoon talking about those—and our plans for the future. The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said how much he had enjoyed that speech; well, there is plenty more where that came from, if he would like to listen to the hon. Member for Angus and me talking on the subject.

The FlyZero project is one of the key projects run by the ATI. The hon. Member for Richmond Park made some very good points—I agree with many of the points she made—about the excitement generated by the new technology. We have heard about the Airbus project, which is one of the projects on the way. I saw ZeroAvia’s first flight of a hydrogen aircraft last year; ZeroAvia is now working on a 19-seater. Nuncats has a solar-powered battery aircraft, which I saw at Old Buckenham recently. It is very exciting, particularly for connecting people in the developing world. I also recently saw Ampaire’s electric flight from Exeter. That is particularly exciting when we consider the novel uses of this technology.

The hon. Member for Angus asked about battery technology. He is right, of course, that batteries are very heavy, which is a big challenge. Does electric play a part? Yes, it probably does. Does hydrogen play a part? Yes, it probably does. But it is probably not for a Government Minister to say so at this point. What we should be doing, and I suggest that we are doing it, is to put the money—the R&D funding—in place, so that we find out what the answer is. As I have said, electric probably plays a part. The hon. Member rightly talked about the work that Highland and Islands Airports Ltd has been doing, and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North talked about the work that Loganair has been doing. Both companies are world-leading.

The hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and for Strangford both told us about the reality of this interconnected world and the importance of aviation. Batteries and electric may well play a part in the sorts of journeys that they make.

We are continuing to look at these detailed plans. As part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, the zero emission flight infrastructure was launched recently, and there are many innovative ideas coming forward to progress R&D. We will announce some more successful projects shortly.

I think that the hon. Member for Bristol East asked me about the emissions trading scheme at one point. Perhaps she did not and I misunderstood her, but I will tell her about it anyway. The scheme will cover all domestic flights, flights from the UK to the European economic area and flights between the UK and Gibraltar, and it goes further than the EU scheme that it replaces. We have reduced its cap by 5% and we will consult on putting it on a clear net zero trajectory.

I am very keen to stress that this is not a domestic-only issue; it is a global problem that requires a global solution. We are continuing to work with the International Civil Aviation Organisation in particular to make sure that we drive the ambition and do the technical work on the feasibility of this long-term goal.

Through ICAO, we are also leading members of the carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for international aviation, which is the first worldwide scheme to address CO2 emissions in any sector. We are strong supporters of that, although I accept what hon. Members have said, that we cannot rely on that alone. None the less, in the short term it is probably part of the picture. COP26 gives us a great deal of ambition to show how we are leading on this. I look forward to explaining more about that in due course.

I will say a word or two about airport expansion. We take our commitments on the environment very seriously. I will quote from page 38, paragraph 3.41, of the jet zero consultation document, with regard to the impact of covid:

“even if the sector returns to a pre-COVID-19 demand trajectory, as we have assumed in our analysis, we currently believe the sector can achieve Jet Zero without the Government needing to intervene directly to limit aviation growth. The industry’s need to rebuild from a lower base is likely to mean that plans for airport expansion will be slower to come forward.”

We built that into the consultation process. I hope that hon. Members got that reference; I can provide it, if need be.

The hon. Members for Putney and for Richmond Park and the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington made a number of points about Heathrow expansion. They made their arguments with great courtesy, passion and power. The Government have been clear that Heathrow expansion is a private sector project, which has to meet strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change, as well as being privately financed, affordable and delivered in the best interests of consumers. I hope they will understand that I cannot comment any further, in case there were to be a planning matter that would prejudice any further consideration by Ministers. None the less, I refer to that section in the jet zero consultation.

I am conscious that I am now out of time. I hope I have dealt with all queries from right hon. and hon. Members. If I have not, I will do my best to do so in writing later. I hope that what I have outlined today has made it clear that jet zero is a priority for the Government and that we are delivering on it with great enthusiasm and pace.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 3:56 pm, 21st September 2021

I thank the Minister and all Members who have contributed to a very important, timely and strong debate, with many points for the Minister to take away and new ideas on how to go about meeting this challenging opportunity. There is a high awareness among the public that they want to do the right thing when they are flying. That has come through loud and clear; our constituents could not be more sure of that. They are looking to the Government for leadership on this issue.

There are exciting opportunities for us to lead the world in research and development for new sustainable fuels. We are looking at those being delivered in the 2040s, but they are not here now. What do we do about the emissions that are happening now? What do we do now about the damage being caused to the environment? We have to look again at reducing demand right now, until we have established that we can deliver on sustainable aviation.

That could be the carrot with the stick to present to airports. We could say, “You can expand but only if you can show that you can be sustainable along the way.” I look for more leadership on that. I look forward to the Minister returning to his desk with the loud, clear message that we do not want to see an expansion of Heathrow. Its expansion would undermine all the other extra work that is going on towards jet zero. I understand that he is not able to comment now, but I look forward to a new comment being made before COP26 that firmly rules out the expansion of Heathrow.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered decarbonising aviation.