UK aviation emissions must be consistent with UK climate change commitments, CCC says

25 October 2016

Following the announcement that the UK Government has approved the expansion of UK airport capacity, including expansion of London Heathrow Airport, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has issued the following statement:

Emissions from aviation are a relatively small but increasingly important source of UK greenhouse gas emissions (making up 6% of total emissions in 2014). Since 1990, aviation emissions have doubled whilst economy-wide emissions have reduced by more than a third.

It is important that decisions about UK airport capacity are consistent with the UK’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act.

It is the CCC’s role to monitor overall progress against carbon budgets and the 2050 target, rather than examine specific projects. Following the announcement about the Government’s preferred option to expand capacity at London Heathrow Airport, and in light of the recent UN-led agreement on controlling global aviation emissions, the Government should now publish a strategic policy framework for UK aviation emissions.

This should include a plan to limit UK 2050 aviation emissions to 2005 levels (implying around a 60% increase in passenger demand), which the Committee has previously advised is an appropriate contribution to the UK’s 80% target for 2050. The Committee’s advice on the level of 2050 aviation emissions was incorporated by the Airports Commission in their analysis and recommendations to Government.

The Government should also consider strategic options and innovation priorities to pursue deeper cuts in aviation emissions, consistent with the objective in the Paris Agreement to move towards overall net zero emissions in the second half of the century.

Aviation emissions are currently below the level they were in 2005. Ensuring aviation emissions do not exceed 2005 levels by 2050 could be partly achieved with continued improvements in fuel and operational efficiency and use of sustainable biofuels. Depending on technological and related progress, this could imply limiting the growth in demand to around 60% above 2005 levels by 2050 (45% above current levels).

The Committee will continue to monitor developments in aviation emissions and policy.



  • Aviation emissions are included in the 2050 target to reduce economy-wide emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels. CCC analysis has illustrated how the 80% target could be achieved with aviation emissions at 2005 levels in 2050, and by reducing emissions from other sectors by 85%. Aviation emissions at 2005 levels could be achieved with a 35% improvement in carbon intensity (through improved fuel and operational efficiency, and use of sustainable biofuels) and by limiting demand growth to around 60% above 2005 levels by 2050. Higher aviation emissions than 2005 levels in 2050 should not be planned for, since this would imply greater than 85% cuts in other sectors; there is limited confidence about the scope for this.
  • In 2015 UK passenger demand was 11% above 2005 levels; a 60% increase on 2005 levels is equivalent to a 45% increase on the 2015 level.
  • In 2014 (the latest year for which there are data), UK aviation emissions were 9% below 2005 levels. This is likely to be due to a range of factors including improved fuel efficiency of aircraft, operational decisions by airlines (e.g. higher loading factors), and changes in the route mix flown by passengers.
  • The CCC’s advice on the level of 2050 aviation emissions was incorporated by the Airports Commission in their analysis and recommendations to government. The Committee wrote to the Airports Commission in 2013 and again in 2015 to highlight the contribution of aviation to meeting the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act.

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