IEMA's digital journalist Tom Pashby attended an event where future green commitments were discussed by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and their accountability in keeping to this.


At an event on Tuesday 23 November, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston CBE ADC of the Royal Air Force (RAF) spoke about the RAF’s commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. He laid out the RAF’s plans at King’s College London’s Freeman Air and Space Institute’s inaugural annual lecture.

Sir Mike kicked off the lecture by acknowledging the challenging target he has set himself as chief of air and space in the UK armed forces, given the significant contribution the domains make to overall armed forces and wider government greenhouse gas emissions. He went on to describe in-detail how he plans to achieve net zero by 2040.

He explained the reasons for setting a more ambitious target than the one set by central government, which remains at 2050. He said that net zero is demanded by government, and repeated the point from the Integrated Review that “climate change is a transnational challenge that threatens global resilience and our shared security and prosperity”. He also highlighted that the armed forces are a high emitter, so should be a relatively low hanging fruit.

The Chief of the Air Staff explained that the RAF will achieve net zero through three focus areas; net zero aviation, net zero estate, and net zero business as usual. He said that three quarters of the RAF’s current emissions footprint is from aviation and subsequently represents a large proportion of total armed forces and government emissions. These will be brought down by converting aircraft to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), synthetic fuels, hydrogen and electric, and he hopes to introduce the first zero emission aircraft by the end of the decade.

For the estate, which includes domestic and international airbases, he said the RAF would be looking to make RAF Leaming – a training facility – into a testbed for net zero, by installing ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic solar cells. Sir Mike said the RAF is ultimately aiming to be a negative emissions organisation.

During the question and answer session, I asked Sir Mike what the RAF can do to ensure their own accountability in their pathway to net zero? For example, using independent environmental assessors. In response, he said that he is committed to making sure that the RAF’s ambition for net zero by 2040 is not tokenistic, but backed up by rigorous, independent and statutory oversight and accountability mechanisms. You can watch his full response here.

Photo of Tom P
Tom Pashby

Digital Journalist, IEMA

Tom Pashby is a Digital Journalist at IEMA, Tom previously worked in the corporate communications team at EIT Climate-KIC, in the parliamentary office of Caroline Lucas MP, for a think tank called Policy Connect, and for the wind energy industry group RenewableUK. They also set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Role of the House of Lords, and an LGBTQIA+ campaign called Include Mx.