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Heathrow: A clean and resilient recovery

Earlier this year, a few weeks before Covid-19 hit and a whole new but now familiar lexicon – lockdowns, social distancing, quarantine et al – changed every part of our lives, the UK aviation sector pledged to get to net zero emissions by 2050 and set out a detailed roadmap to get there.

That represents a huge step forward. It’s the first time anywhere in the world that a group of aviation companies, representing airlines, airports and manufacturers, have committed to net zero. As UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, concluded at the launch, “this is a great day for aviation, a great day for the UK, and a day we’ll look back on as a great day for the world”.

Four months on, in the midst of what is without a doubt the most profound shock that the aviation industry has faced in the half century era of mass air travel, that may all risk sounding a bit hyperbolic. Air travel has ground to a halt in recent months. Many of those who work in the industry are on Government job support schemes or out of work.

Trade in services and high-value goods (most of which travel in the belly of passenger planes) has become more difficult. The global tourism industry – the world’s biggest employer – has suffered in an unprecedented way. The aviation sector has some very immediate challenges to address, not least developing a common set of international standards for safe travel, so people are able to fly again in confidence.

But climate change remains the greatest mid to long-term challenge we all face. If anything, COVID-19 has simply underlined the need for action. It’s shown the risks of ignoring warning signs. It’s shown the profound impacts that a global crisis can have – on our health, our way of life, the economy. And it’s shown the need for coordinated global action on that kind of crisis. Mark Carney summed it up well at a recent seminar saying that if COVID is a once in a generation challenge, climate change is a once in the planet’s history challenge.

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