Study finds a carbon gap of 220 million tonnes in 2023 will require offsetting by the airline industry
A very readable, short, paper by ICF sets out the extent to which global aviation will not be able to make the carbon reductions it claims will be possible. ICF looked at the global commitment by the industry to make fuel efficiency gains of 1.5% annually to 2020, and then “carbon neutral growth” from 2020 onwards – despite annual growth in passengers of about 4-5% per year. ICF concludes that even with improvements in aircraft technology, airline efficiencies and operational improvements, together with the introduction of 6% biofuels, there will be a sizeable 23% carbon gap between commercial aviation forecasts and industry targets by 2023. Without that much biofuel (which ICF considers unlikely) the gap would be 27%. Without industry efficiencies and biofuels, global aviation would be emitting about 53% more carbon in 2023 than now. ICF believes carbon offsetting to be the most cost-effective way to close the carbon gap – but that only means aviation buying carbon credits from other sectors which are actually reducing their emissions, while aviation can then continue to increase theirs.
Study finds a carbon gap of 220 million tonnes in 2023 will require offsetting by the airline industry
Friday 31 Oct 2014 (GreenAir online)
Link: ICF International Mind_the_Carbon_Gap Oct 2014 (6 pages)
Even with improvements in aircraft technology, airline efficiencies and operational improvements, together with the introduction of biofuels, there will be a sizeable carbon gap between commercial aviation forecasts and industry targets by 2023, according to a study by consultancy ICF International. Without these improvements and biofuel take-up, ICF estimates commercial aviation will produce 53% more carbon in 2023 than today, leading to a 33% gap with the industry’s goal of capping net emissions from 2020. The consultancy’s own forecast is for global CO2 emissions from aviation to reach 942 million tonnes by 2020 and so form the baseline for the industry’s carbon-neutral growth target. With efficiencies and biofuels, the annual carbon gap would be in the region of 220 million tonnes by 2023, which ICF says will have to be mitigated through carbon offsetting.
ICF, which has considerable expertise in airline industry planning and forecasting, estimates global carbon emissions from aviation in 2013 at around 750 million tonnes, a higher assessment than that from the industry itself, which puts the figure at 705 million tonnes. To arrive at the 942 million tonnes by 2020, ICF factored in the industry’s goal of improving annual efficiency by 1.5% through to 2020 against a forecasted increase in global flight hours.
The consultancy believes that compared to most recent industry forecasts, changes in aircraft productivity will reduce the number of flights airlines need to operate to carry the same number of passengers. Over the next 20 years, it says, air traffic will grow by 4% and the fleet required to carry that traffic will increase by just 3.1%.
It says the slower growth in flight hours will make it easier for the industry to achieve its carbon-neutral growth from 2020 goal. “Even with a lower forecast in flying hours, however, the baseline outlook for aviation carbon still exceeds industry targets by 42% in 2023,” cautions ICF in its ‘Mind the Carbon Gap’ white paper.
To close that gap, ICF studied a range of technology improvements and efficiencies that airlines and aircraft manufacturers can introduce over the 10-year period that could cut annual carbon output by 8% in 2023. This would reduce ICF’s baseline estimate of 1,253 million tonnes of CO2 to 1,195 tonnes in 2023.
ICF notes industry groups and individual airlines have built up hopes that biofuels will be a solution to aviation emissions but its study is less optimistic about the prospect.
“Market forces do not appear aligned to make biofuels cost competitive with traditional kerosene in the near term or medium term,” says the paper. “There is little appetite for government subsidies to cover this cost differential, as the United States historically did for corn-based ethanol production or as many governments have done to support renewable electricity. Unfortunately, biofuels are unlikely to close the full gap between projected aviation carbon and the industry’s targets.”
However, ICF estimates that biofuels could contribute to a further reduction of 33 million tonnes of CO2 in 2023, bringing the carbon gap down to 220 tonnes.
The consultancy – which says it has provided guidance on aviation emissions to ICAO, analysis for the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme and is currently helping China design its future carbon trading programme – believes carbon offsetting to be the most cost-effective way to close that gap.
ICF International Mind_the_Carbon_Gap Oct 2014 (6 pages)
CF aviation carbon forecast (with efficiencies and no biofuels):
Copyright © 2014 GreenAir Communications
The section of the ICF report on biofuel states:
Industry groups and individual airlines have built up great hope — or hype—about biofuels as a solution to aviation emissions. This focus indicates an implicit recognition that even the most optimistic scenarios of efficiency improvements will be insufficient to meet the industry’s commitments to carbon-neutral growth.
The most promising biofuels under consideration today, derived from Jatropha and Salicornia oils, result in 40 to 60% of the lifecycle carbon emissions produced by petroleum jet fuel.
Although biofuels have lower carbon content than oil, energy consumed in production reduces benefits from CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere during cultivation.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that by 2020, biofuels will make up approximately 6% of all aviation fuels. Applying the FAA’s 6% assumption to ICF’s baseline carbon forecast would reduce total aviation carbon output up to 3.6%
during the forecast period.
Unfortunately, this scenario will require a significant coordinated effort to achieve because of a number of obstacles to widespread use of biofuels, some technical and some economic.
Technically, biofuels must gain the trust of airlines and regulators as safe alternatives to kerosene, including the impact on engine maintenance and new methods to ensure safe handling at the airport and procedures for emergency response.
Current aircraft engines depend on aromatic components in petroleum, such as benzene, that help rubber seals expand during engine combustion. Barring development of new engine technology, biofuels will constitute no more than half the total fuel onboard. As a result, biofuels will require a parallel fueling infrastructure at airports to blend fuels in the right mix for each product.
Economically, biofuels may simply be too expensive for airlines to embrace on a wide scale. Biofuels currently cost at least $3.00 more per gallon ($993 per tonne) than jet fuel, or a premium of $15,000 for a typical transcontinental flight. Market forces do not appear aligned to make biofuels cost competitive with traditional kerosene in the near term or medium term. There is little appetite for government subsidies to cover this cost differential, as the United States historically did for corn-based ethanol production or as many governments have done to support renewable electricity.
Meanwhile, other industries are already willing to pay higher prices for bio-based polymers, further reducing market incentives to process feedstock into biofuels for aircraft instead of other purposes.
Unfortunately, biofuels are unlikely to close the full gap between projected aviation carbon and the industry’s targets.
On offsetting they say:
How Offsets Work
Participants in an emissions trading scheme purchase certificates that prove a carbon reduction has been achieved in another industry or location. In one functioning example, the United Nations certifies carbon reduction actions, such as eliminating fugitive refrigerant emissions. To offset carbon produced in flight, airlines would purchase these certificates, thereby reducing global emissions at a lower cost than airlines would be able to achieve themselves..
On Market Based Measures the report says:
Assuming aircraft manufacturers and airlines implement widespread efficiency improvements, and assuming the airline industry is able to implement some biofuel use, [the ICF says: “We assume that North America and Europe achieve the biofuel usage
levels predicted by the FAA and that the Middle East and Pacific Rim ramp
up to European production levels by 2020″.] ICF’s forecast still shows a gap between the outlook for aviation carbon and the industry’s stated targets.
This gap equates to 220 million tons of CO2 in 2023, or the equivalent annual emissions from 44 million cars.
For the aviation industry to meet its emissions targets in 2023 and beyond, reductions in other industries will have to offset airline emissions.
There is precedent for reductions in GHG using such market based approaches. In the Northeastern United States, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) invested $700 million over 5 years to produce more than $2 billion in energy savings. RGGI worksbecause producers with the highest emissions were able to purchase reductions from firms with the lowest cost to reduce emissions.
Similarly, after implementing prudent efficiencies in aviation, it is more cost-effective to reduce GHG emissions in other industries. It will simply cost less to install methane digesters on farms or to insulate buildings than to accelerate aircraft retirement.
ICF has experience developing offset programs to enable the most efficient outcomes. ICF gave some of the earliest guidance on aviation emissions to ICAO—the UN body responsible for aviation — and has provided analysis for the European Union’s Emissions
Trading Scheme. Currently, ICF is helping China design its future carbon trading program
ICF International says of itself: (aviation is just one sector in which it works)
ICF International provides professional services and technology solutions that deliver beneficial impact in areas critical to the world’s future.
The firm combines passion for its work with industry expertise and innovative analytics to produce compelling results throughout the entire program lifecycle, from research and analysis through implementation and improvement.
Since 1969, ICF has been serving government at all levels, major corporations, and multilateral institutions. More than 4,500 employees serve these clients from more than 70 offices worldwide.
DfT estimates of amount of biofuels are between the two figures of 2.5% and 10% biofuel use by 2050.