16th May 2022


Over the past 20 years the UK aviation industry has consistently failed to meet its own targets for reducing emissions. That was the clear message from a recent report (‘Missed Targets’, May 2022) by the respected environmental think tank, “Possible” [Note 1].  The report highlighted a pattern of targets being quietly downgraded or simply abandoned.

The report concluded that the purpose of these over-ambitious targets was to try to convince government that the aviation industry had its climate change impacts under control and so there was no need for any measures to limit the growth in aviation.

These same arguments were presented by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) at the Stansted Airport Public Inquiry in 2021.  MAG argued that, allowing for projected efficiency gains, Stansted’s CO2 emissions would be virtually unchanged at an annual throughput of 43 million passengers compared to its 2019 emissions when it handled 28 million passengers.

Stansted Airport Watch (at that time, SSE) provided counter evidence to the Inquiry showing a consistent pattern of missed targets by the aviation industry between 2008 and 2020.  Quite simply, the promised efficiency gains were never delivered.

However, the Panel of Inspectors leading the Public Inquiry accepted MAG’s projections at face value, just as successive governments have been repeatedly reassured by the unrealistic targets published by the aviation industry for reducing its emissions.  The consistent pattern of the industry failing to meet its projected efficiency gains is simply overlooked.

SAW’s climate change adviser, Mike Young commented: “MAG claimed that it based its forecasts on work done by ‘Sustainable Aviation’, a body sponsored by the aviation industry.  This organisation produces forecasts every two years or so.  Each forecast is wildly optimistic and differs from the previous one which has proved to be unrealistic. The only consistent feature is that serious emissions reductions are always projected to be 10-15 years away.”

The report by “Possible” noted that by 2019, aviation had grown to 9.4% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, and continues to be one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, Europe, and globally.

Today, the aviation industry continues to paint an optimistic vision of a future where aviation will play its part in tackling climate change by having ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, without any need to limit its growth.

Commercial aircraft powered by electricity or hydrogen may well be viable options at some point in the future but these technologies are still in their infancy.  A commercial aircraft has an average lifespan of about 24 years.  Aircraft coming off the production line today – and those on the order books – will still be in service in the 2040s and into the 2050s.

Mike Young concluded: “The aviation industry’s record of missed targets does not inspire confidence.”


  1. “Missed Targets: a brief history of aviation climate targets of the early 21st century”, May 2022 see https://www.uecna.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Missed-Targets-Report.pdf.


Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits