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Exclusive: Boris Johnson And World Leaders Plan To Fly Into COP26 On "Green Fuel" Planes

3 min read

Boris Johnson and other global leaders will be flown into the COP26 climate change conference on “green” flights as part of plans to make the event as carbon neutral as possible.

The travel proposal seen by PoliticsHome has been worked on by Whitehall staff and aviation experts for months and it could form the centre-piece of the Prime Minister’s personal call for greater action on climate change. 

The flights will depend on a physical event taking place. According to The Sun doubt has been cast in recent weeks over whether a face to face summit this November is likely to happen at all as a result of global coronavirus cases. It is understood Boris Johnson does not want to postpone or see it hosted digitally.

Department for Transport documents seen by PoliticsHome show the government is still working on a physical event taking place for up to 30,000 delegates.

Last summer the PM announced plans for Britain to become the first country in the world to make an emissions free aircraft for commercial use – dubbed "Jet Zero" – with a first flight completed by 2025. 

The flights proposed for COP26 won't be completely emissions free but involve Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) – typically made from the oils from plants or animal by-products – and they could reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent.

The documents reveal that Whitehall is devising ways of flying up to 65 heads of state into three Scottish airports by making SAF available at UK airports.

Minutes from a sub-group of the Jet Zero Council, made up of representatives from government, airports and the aviation sector, say that: “Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) continues to be a priority among ministers….delivery of SAF at COP26 is now fundamental.”

They suggest that ministers are heavily involved in making the green flights happen with work on the project is “high profile within government discussions”.

Another document from the Department for Transport, dated from March 2, said: “Three key outcomes include, reducing the overall footprint of the COP, demonstrating feasibility of the SAF supply and providing a positive story of travel to and from the COP.”

“The COP unit are working towards a physical COP with 30,000 delegates.”

It appears there had been a “go/no go” date for the event at which point it could have been postponed, but this was removed earlier this spring. However this decision was taken before cases began to rise dramatically in India and Brazil. On Monday, Boris Johnson cancelled an already postponed trade trip to India as a result of a surge in Covid-19 infections in the country. 

Costs for the Green flight project are due to be finalised in May with fuel suppliers, and the UK will start buying it in time for the summer. 

Options being explored are in the first instance delivering SAF to aircraft directly, but also looking into a “book and claim” system which is a form of off-setting by paying for the green fuel in another aircraft.

However the government’s own paperwork says they need to be careful with how they manage the plan to avoid criticisms of “greenwashing”.

They also highlighted a possible “PR issue” if there is still a Covid lockdown in Scotland in the autumn when heads of state are flying in. 

The Prime Minister’s flight from the South of England to Scotland was also flagged in their communications strategy, possibly highlighting the short distance of around 450 miles which could be done by train.

The Department for Transport declined to comment.

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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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