UK moves ahead of EU in closing loophole on airline and ship pollution

The UK will incorporate international aviation and shipping emissions in its national carbon budget, becoming the first major economy to do so. Rather than leaving them to international burden-sharing arrangements, the move closes an important loophole and the EU should follow suit, says T&E.

Emissions from aviation and shipping have grown rapidly over the past 20 years while other transport sectors have seen emissions flatline. This is largely because the 1997 Kyoto protocol left it to UN agencies, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), to deal with aviation and shipping’s environmental impact. Both have made negligible progress. Andrew Murphy, aviation director at T&E, said: “Over two decades the best the ICAO can come up with is an offsetting scheme that has next to no climate benefit”.

Alongside the inclusion of aviation and shipping, the UK government also announced it would cut emissions by 78% by 2035, putting it on track to meet British commitments under the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Murphy added: “With this world-leading announcement, the UK is showing how to take responsibility for its climate impact. The EU can play catch-up by ensuring its forthcoming package of climate measures regulates all of Europe’s aviation emissions. The UK is responsible for the third highest amount of CO2 emissions from aviation globally, behind only the United States and China. If the UK can do it, so can the EU.”

The recommendation to include aviation and shipping emissions in the sixth carbon budget came from the government’s independent Climate Change Committee The draft legislation is likely to complete its parliamentary passage in June.

T&E warned, however, that accounting for emissions is not the same as actually reducing them. “This is a key step on the path to decarbonising planes and ships,” said Matt Finch, UK policy officer at T&E. “But while properly accounting for emissions is essential, we now need meaningful action to prevent future emissions rising above pre-pandemic levels,” he added. 

The Aviation Environment Federation, which worked with T&E to secure the UK’s commitment, said it would “set a policy framework through which the aviation industry is held to account for its own promises to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and provide certainty for investors over what is expected from the aviation and shipping sectors.”

Presenting its recommendations last December, the Climate Change Committee said UK emissions needed to fall by almost 80% by 2035 in order to align with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The announcement puts the UK on course for a 78% reduction by 2035.