Aviation connects people and is fundamental to the world economy. However, it is also responsible for around 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
This led a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge to propose the closure of all UK airports by 2050 in order to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions.
According to their paper Absolute Zero, no amount of government or public wishful thinking would be able to disguise the fact that the country will not achieve zero emissions by 2050 without drastic changes in policies, industrial processes, and lifestyles.
The researchers also shocked the British government by demonstrating that it had no prospect of attaining its own legally bound goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions in 30 years.
For faster progress, the group says that international shipping shall also be halted, and all UK imports and exports will be transported by train. Cars will have to shrink in size and should only be used when fully loaded.
“We have to cut our greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050: that’s what climate scientists tell us, it’s what social protesters are asking for, and it’s now the law in the UK,” says the report prepared by a network of academics led by Julian Allwood, professor of engineering and environment at the University of Cambridge.
On aviation, they say: “Although there are lots of new ideas about electric planes, they won’t be operating at commercial scales within 30 years, so zero emissions means that for some period, we’ll all stop using aeroplanes.
“Without flying, there will be growth in domestic and train-reach tourism and leisure.”
With the exception of Heathrow, Glasgow, and Belfast, all airports should close between 2020 and 2029, according to the analysis. Between 2030 and 2049, these would close.
Once a zero-emission mode of flight is developed, aviation could resume. “Electric planes are being developed, but it’s proving difficult: the slow rate of growth in solar cell efficiency means that solar power may never be enough for multi-passenger commercial flying.”
Although aviation is anticipated to emit more emissions than any other sector by 2050, the Climate Change Committee sees opportunities to reduce emissions in this difficult sector. The paper finds that these international modes of transportation, along with shipping, “cannot be ignored” because every other sector is being compelled to reduce emissions to near-zero levels.
In line with this, the report suggests both should be incorporated into the UK’s carbon budgets for the first time:
“The Climate Change Act (section 30) allows for emissions from international aviation and shipping to be included from any future year. Since the current carbon budgets have been set without these emissions, we recommend their inclusion from the first year of the sixth carbon budget (ie 2033).”
According to the committee, improvements in fuel efficiency and switching to alternative fuels can help reduce airline emissions. However, the committee claims that there are no commercially accessible “low-carbon” planes, limiting the usefulness of these tactics.
This means that even if “sustainable biofuel” use reaches 10% by the middle of the century, as predicted by the most optimistic CCC scenario, aircraft will still rely substantially on greenhouse gas removal to attain net-zero emissions.
The report warns, however, that easier methods, such as planting trees, will not be enough to counterbalance aviation emissions.
The network of academics also calls for a ban on eating beef and lamb, as well as for people to turn down their heating at home and wear more clothes to be warm instead.
Although pleasures like flying abroad on vacation and driving large automobiles will be sacrificed, scientists believe that life will be just as rich as it is now.
“By focusing on sports, social life, eating, hobbies, games, reading, TV, music, radio, volunteering, etc. We can all do more of these without any impact on emissions,” the group said.