Heathrow’s Sustainability Director, Matt Gorman reflects on his participation at the WEF Clean Skies For Tomorrow Coalition and aviation’s role towards net-zero carbon by 2050.
The global climate protests over the last month have been impressive. It’s amazing to think it’s only 13 months since Greta Thunberg held her first school strike, on her own. Millions of young people have now joined that movement, driven by a real a sense of urgency about the need to act on climate change. This is the future electorate so it’s no surprise governments are listening.
In the UK these protests have both put pressure on the Government but also create the political space for action, with the country now among the first in the world to legislate a target for net-zero by 2050.
Big businesses need to define their path to net-zero too and the aviation industry is no exception. At the end of last month the Committee on Climate Change reiterated its view that aviation emissions should be included in the UK’s net-zero target, as long as it is done in a way that doesn’t distort competition and just “leak” carbon to countries with laxer standards.
Heathrow is fully supportive of that recommendation and we are already working with industry partners and the Government to ensure the UK leads the drive for net-zero emissions.
At the end of last month, John Holland-Kaye, our CEO, was at the UN Climate Action Summit looking to do just that. He was one of three leaders invited to represent the aviation industry and discuss the need for an international response to decarbonisation, calling on the UN’s aviation body, ICAO, to set a goal for net-zero by aviation by 2050 and develop the roadmap and policies needed to get there.
At the same time, I was at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit for the launch of the WEF’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition. The alliance has been established to work out how we can accelerate decarbonisation in the aviation sector – with a firm focus on sustainable fuels.
The 25,000 airliners in the world today all fly on kerosene. So “dropping in” lower carbon fuels is one of the main ways to accelerate carbon cuts in the next decade or so. They’re technologically proven, the feedstock exists, the challenge is to tackle the chicken and egg challenge of limited, high-cost supply and hence limited demand.
We’re leading a workstream with colleagues at Schiphol Airport and working out how we can use our unique scale as hub airports to stimulate demand, for example using landing charges to incentivise uptake of sustainable fuels, and also where we need to advocate action by Government, for example through a Europe-wide mandate for sustainable fuel use.
Aviation brings huge wealth to society – economic of course, but also social and cultural.
Aviation brings huge wealth to society – economic of course, but also social and cultural. There are many who argue that that wealth comes at an unacceptable environmental cost. But to call for an end to air travel is unrealistic and would harm us in other ways. So, what I’m working to deliver is a thriving aviation sector that can also reach net-zero emissions.
I said as much in my recent meeting with the anti-aviation campaign group Heathrow Pause in what was a good and robust debate. I wanted to reassure them, and those who share their concerns, that the pressing challenge of sustainable air travel is one of Heathrow’s top priorities. We’re absolutely determined to be part of the solution.
And we’re keen to be held accountable for this. So while we were in New York, we’ve been arguing for bold targets. We’ve called on the UN’s body for international aviation, ICAO, to develop goals for the uptake of sustainable alternative fuels that industry would then need to meet. We’re ready to commit and we hope others will too.