Anthony Browne MP speaking as part of the Westminster Hall Debate on the Jet Zero Council.
I echo the sentiments of my colleagues. It is great to be here at your first debate, Mrs Miller. It is also great to be with the Minister of Aviation, newly installed in the position. I congratulate him on that and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing this very important debate.
I am keen to speak because tackling and stopping environmental destruction is the defining mission of our age. We have seen so much of it over the last 100 years, and we have to bring it to an end. That is why I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment. Clearly, one of the biggest environmental challenges is tackling climate change. As a country, we have adopted the legally binding target of net zero by 2050, and I strongly welcome that. A huge body of work is needed to achieve it.
In many areas, progress is already quite advanced. Electricity is now 40% renewable, largely from wind energy, which is an enormous achievement compared with what was expected 20 years ago. Electric cars are not quite commonplace, but they are becoming commonplace. The technology is well advanced and proven; they are fantastic cars to drive and we now have a Government target of abolishing the sale of internal combustion engines by 2040 and we are consulting on 2035, which I certainly support.
Aviation, however, is a conundrum, because it is a growing source of national emissions overall—now 8%, increased from 5% five years ago—yet it is a very difficult source of emissions to tackle. We are not quite there, as we are in other areas.
There are those who would say, “Well, we should stop flying. Fly less. Make it so expensive to fly that people cannot go on holidays.” I absolutely do not support that, for the reasons echoed by colleagues. Aviation is jobs. My constituency is near Luton airport and Stansted. It is incredibly important in terms of leisure and business that people carry on flying. The challenge is to make sure that flying can be carbon neutral and that is why I welcomed so strongly the launch of the Jet Zero Council earlier this year.
Tackling aviation is difficult because electric batteries are too heavy to fly in planes. They do not have enough energy density to be able to fly a plane across the Atlantic. Low-carbon fuels are here, but they are still at a fairly early stage of development. Aeroplanes also tend to be long-lasting—fleets last for 40 or 50 years. It is not like cars, which have quite a high turnover, so it is easier to introduce new electric cars.
However, there is a lot of innovation in this area, as previous speakers have mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire spoke at length about the Whittle Laboratory, which is just on the edge of my constituency—it is just outside, so I cannot claim it is mine, but it is a fantastic laboratory. Imperial War Museum Duxford is also in South Cambridgeshire. It is known for its Battle of Britain aeroplanes and a Concorde, but it also has an AvTech—aviation technology sector—development, co-launched with Gonville and Caius College. The first company there is Faradair, an electric aviation company. It is developing a bioelectric hybrid aircraft, with the first flight aimed for 2023. It is aiming for an all-electric aircraft by 2030. It has a lot of energy and bright ideas and is definitely worth supporting.
Obviously, it is not only the UK that is doing this. Flight is of its nature international and the International Civil Aviation Organisation has been doing a lot of work trying to co-ordinate the industry. It has committed to a 2% annual increase in fuel efficiency. It has a global offsetting scheme—CORSIA—which starts in 2021. It is supporting sustainable aviation fuels and better air traffic management, which has been quite important for increasing the efficiency of aviation, as we have seen over the past five years or so.
Developments are definitely gathering pace. EasyJet is planning its first short-haul electric flights by 2030, which would be very impressive. Norway—I am half-Norwegian and am very proud of Norway—has the aim that all short-haul flights should be electric by 2040 and all electricity in Norway is renewable, so that would be completely carbon neutral, and it is investing in that.
With all these developments, there is a huge opportunity for the UK. We absolutely need to make it a national mission. If we are ahead of the curve, there are huge export opportunities as well.
On recommendations and policy, I would be interested, first, in including international aviation emissions in the 2050 target of net zero. Domestic aviation emissions are already in that target, but I understand the Government are thinking about the international emissions. That would be a good step, in order to put pressure on the sector and make it part of the national mission to become net zero.
Secondly, we should think about nature-based carbon offsets. Offsetting has a slightly bad name, because schemes are often not very robust. They can be made robust, however, and the Government should think about having a universal mandate on airlines, to give passengers an option for a robust offsetting of their flights. We could end up with lots more money for tree planting, which would be wonderful.
We need to do a lot more work to develop sustainable aviation fuels, as we have heard. There needs to be a whole regime to support the development and take-up of sustainable aviation fuels. For example, aviation duty is not taxed because it is cross-border and it has been impossible to get international agreement, so we have air passenger duty on flights taking off. We could think about moving to a system where air passenger duty reflected the efficiency of aeroplanes in the way that vehicle excise duty reflects the efficiency of cars. It may be too early to do that yet, but we could certainly move in that direction.
We will not get a UK-only solution on this. We should try to lead the world but we definitely need to work with other countries. We should absolutely work internationally and that should be a big part of what the Government are doing. This is a huge opportunity for the UK and we really must take advantage of it. We need a massive national commitment and the Jet Zero Council can lead the UK on this, and I commend the Government’s work on it.