While the travel industry is, quite rightly, mostly concerned with survival right now, many are looking to the future of our industry too. One of the biggest transitions over the coming years will surely be decarbonisation, and while complete decarbonisation may take decades, we are seeing a number of changes taking place right now.
Ahead of the international COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year, the UK has launched its 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution, which has a range of implications for travel. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments, businesses and individuals are asking how we can recover, adapt and invest in a way that ensures future resilience, particularly with regards to climate change. In other words, asking how we can build back better.
We know that climate change is important to consumers. In 2019 it was rising rapidly up the agenda, driven, for example, by campaigner Greta Thunberg and the climate strikes, and Abta’s holiday habits research shows consumer concern on climate change has risen even further in 2020.
So government support for decarbonisation is aligned with the industry’s own need to address these concerns. In Abta’s recent Tourism for Good report we called on the government to deliver support for the transition of transport providers to greener technologies.
The part of the government’s plan that will have the biggest implications for travel is the sixth point: ‘Jet Zero and greener maritime: Supporting difficult-to-decarbonise industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes and ships.’
This is a positive statement. Much of what has been announced builds on steps that have taken place already. These include the first stage of a new £15 million sustainable aviation fuel competition, which will support the early development of new industrial plants in the UK, and £3 million for a sustainable aviation fuel clearing house. £3 million will also be invested in research and development for the infrastructure needed to support the introduction of new electric and hydrogen planes.
Abta is a member of Sustainable Aviation, which sets out a roadmap for how UK aviation can deliver on its commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Government support is an integral part of that delivery. Last week, for example, as part of Sustainable Aviation, Abta’s CEO Mark Tanzer signed a letter to the PM in support of investment in aviation decarbonisation.
Whilst the 10-point plan doesn’t include all that will be required, the investment announced and the newly formed Jet Zero Council demonstrate that partnership between government and the private sector will be needed for UK aviation to lead the world in developing and deploying cutting-edge technologies.
For cruise, it will be interesting to see to what extent the sector can take advantage of the £20 million investment into the Clean Maritime Demonstration Programme.
The investment in the hydrogen economy (point two) and carbon capture and storage (point eight) will further support the decarbonisation of aviation and cruise.
Alongside aviation and cruise, decarbonisation in travel and tourism will also need to take place in accommodation and road transport, including transfers. The aspect of the prime minister’s plan that made the most headlines was the announced ban of petrol and diesel car sales by 2030. This will be supported by investment in the infrastructure for electric vehicles. In the UK, this electrification of transport has implications for coach companies, for example, but the trend to electrification is happening globally and will impact road transport in all parts of the travel and tourism value chain.
As we approach the international COP26 climate summit we will have a greater sense of the decarbonisation ambitions around the world. It is clear climate change action will be at the heart of the Biden administration, last month China announced their net zero targets, and in September we saw the launch of Europe’s 2030 Climate Target Plan as part of the European Green Deal.
The UK government has a significant role to play in providing the enabling and progressive political environment necessary to strengthen the sustainability of its outbound tourism industry and support its efforts to contribute to climate change goals. This 10-point plan is a positive step that needs to be followed by positive actions.