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Debate: Can we fly to net zero?

Sally Pavey (CEN supporter) and Sanjoy Sen (CEN supporter)

After our recent webinar to debate whether we can fly to net zero, two of our supporters have written a blog to expand upon the discussion.

YES - Sanjoy Sen

Sanjoy is an engineer most recently specialising in sustainable transport and an ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network. He stood as the Conservative Party's parliamentary candidate in Alyn and Deeside in 2019.

We hear a lot these days about taxing, restricting and even banning flying. But as Conservatives, we should ask how we can keep flying but do so responsibly.

The Jet Zero Strategy recognises our aviation sector's value: £22 billion GDP, 230,000 jobs. And as an outward-looking trading nation, we need to maintain our global business links to stay competitive. Whilst ensuring the poorest don't get priced out of their annual holiday.

The Jet Zero Strategy also recognises we need new technologies. So let's check them out.

Electric cars are increasingly commonplace, so why not electric aircraft? Simple answer: weight. A battery jumbo wouldn't get off the ground (or get very far). But smaller aircraft are possible: Norway wants electric-only short-haul flying by 2040. Electric drones are another growth area, supporting our emergency services and making urgent deliveries. The government also backs "flying taxis": the world's first hub opened in Coventry.

Hydrogen is another option. The government backs a twin-track approach for clean production: 'blue' from natural gas coupled with CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilisation & Storage), 'green' from zapping water with renewable power. Here in the UK, Rolls-Royce is investigating hydrogen for jet engines. Meanwhile, British-based ZeroAvia is developing fuel-cell hydrogen aircraft. But due to hydrogen's low energy density, an aircraft needs to carry four times the volume of cryogenic liquid hydrogen than jet fuel. Airbus have proposed some all-new aircraft shapes, like the blended-wing body, but these will take time to develop.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is similar to conventional jet fuel, but coming from waste (like used cooking oil), emissions can be 80% lower. The RAF has even trialled the world's first 100% SAF flight. But there just isn't enough waste out there. And feeding crops to aircraft isn't sustainable. The answer could be "third-generation" biofuels from algae. Or e-fuels using solar power to fuse captured industrial CO2 with green hydrogen.

Once considered exciting and glamorous, flying is too often portrayed negatively these days. We know there are options for sustainable flying. And they're being developed right here in the UK. So, as Conservatives, let's get behind these.

NO - Sally Pavey

Sally is a Conservative Party Member in Horsham and a parish councillor.

Why do airlines and government not tell the truth – the whole truth – and inform us that aviation is one of the biggest polluters of our planet? We all know now that the planet cannot wait.

The airwaves and newspapers are full of airlines' advertisements encouraging the consumer to spend, spend, spend on low-cost package holidays. Offers that must be very enticing to everyone facing the cost-of-living crisis – but flying is not free from big impacts on global heating and air pollution.

It is time for the government to adopt a policy for all media messages from the world of aviation to declare the impact that flying has on the planet. This should be clear at the time of booking a flight, in free holiday competitions and in related messages, whether online or offline. If any greener alternatives are available, these could be offered – for example, greener forms of transport, or airlines flying on greener fuels, citing real evidence.

With food labelling, the government has looked to avoid the health impacts of unwise food choices. With the health consequences of smoking, the government of the time decided to inform the consumer so that they could be fully aware of its impact on their health. Both measures have reduced costs to the NHS.

I ask you, therefore, to consider the health of the planet. Margaret Thatcher was the first to lead on climate change, so we must ask – why is the current government not informing the consumer of the facts and continues to heavily subsidise a wealth industry that attracts overseas investors due to its profitability?

Aviation may, one day, be carbon neutral. But no one silver bullet has yet been found to achieve this, either now or by the deadline of 2030. Until that situation changes, we must inform the consumer about what flying means for the health of our planet and our environment with a policy that stops all airport expansion.

The planet cannot wait for aviation to 'do the right thing' on its own. An obvious solution is to educate the consumer to make an informed decision about whether or not to fly to reduce greenhouse emissions now.


Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to


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