Climate Change News
Below are news items on climate change – many with relevance to aviation
Below are news items on climate change – many with relevance to aviation
Writing in the Observer, Andrew Simms (fellow at the NEF and author of the book, "Cancel the Apocalypse") says that the UK needs to learn to live within the biosphere's thresholds, its ability to absorb our waste and replenish its productivity. We are not doing this at present, and act as if there were infinite resources available and the planet has infinite capacity to deal with our wastes. He says Britain's economy is in the grip of an Icarus complex. " It touches everything from, appropriately, the debate on aviation expansion, to our increasing dependence on fossil fuels and more." By operating within the biosphere's thresholds, "this introduces an urgent and immediate decision tree. If something like a new airport runway, or expansion of fossil fuel extraction, is going to take you closer to, or further beyond, one of the biosphere's tolerance thresholds – such as potentially runaway climate change – you branch off and do something else .... that would mean no enlargement of Heathrow, or having to identify compensatory carbon savings elsewhere. The latter is not as easy as it sounds as some official projections for expansion lead to the aviation industry using up the UK's entire fair global share of safe carbon emissions before too long."
The Scottish Government has saved more than £500,000 and shrunk its carbon footprint through cutting back on business flights. Their figures show that in the past 5 years, the Scottish government has reeduced yearly flights from 11,169 to 8,036. That is reported to mean a cut of 650 tonnes of CO2. The cuts have means an annual saving of some 31%, from £1.85 million to £1.27m. The total distance flown dropped by 23%, from nearly 8 million kilometres to 6 million kilometres. The reductions are due to the government taking part in the WWF "One in Five Challenge" to cut one flight in every five, in 5 years. The Scotland government is the first administration in the UK to successfully fulfil the WWF's challenge. WWF Scotland said: “By successfully completing WWF’s One in Five Challenge, the Scottish Government has clearly demonstrated that many business flights are unnecessary and can easily be replaced with lower-carbon alternatives such as rail travel or video conferencing." Much time is saved by public servants if they can use video-conferencing instead of flying, and that saves money. Time spent travelling by train, not air, is generally useful time in which work can be done. Scotland is aiming to cut its CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020.
Chris Huhne, writing in the Observer, says the poorer countries, that have been adversely affected by climate change, have an increasingly strong legal argument against the rich countries that have been the historical main emitters. The more certain is the attribution for blame, the more justified many developing countries will feel in protesting. There is the possibility that the victims of climate change could begin to take international legal action against the countries responsible, particularly the early industrialisers, such as Britain, Belgium and Germany, whose carbon continues to warm the planet a century after it was emitted. "Legal action is not a substitute for politics, but it could highlight the evidence in an uncomfortable way." Philippe Sands QC, the UCL professor of international law, said: "There will definitely be a case in my lifetime and probably within five to 10 years .... The only questions now are where, how and to what purpose." Huhne says: "It is not a defence that we did not know what we were doing, nor does a case have to target everyone who might have historic responsibility: countries are jointly and severally liable."
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has announced it will report to parliament in July 2014 on the impact of the Airports Commission's plans on the UK's climate commitments. The Commission's report referred to the previous recommendations of the CCC, but was opaque on how those targets could be met, if expansion is permitted. The Commission said aviation CO2 emissions could be kept at 2005 levels by 2050 if passenger demand growth is kept to 67% by 2050. [The earlier CCC advice in 2009 was maximum 60% passenger growth over 2005 level by 2050]. The CCC's David Kennedy said: "The expansion of Heathrow by one runway would stay within the 60% limit, depending on the extent of demand growth at other locations." But a second runway probably would not. The Commission itself suggested that to meet the CO2 targets, the carbon price would have to rise to £600 per tonne of CO2 by 2050, as opposed to the current price of £3 per tonne, if runway capacity was totally unconstrained. The cost of flights would have to rise substantially. The CCC said that the cost of long-haul flights would need to rise by up to £200 to curtail demand and stay within the UK's carbon emissions targets. "The higher the level of aviation emissions, the deeper the emissions cuts required in other sectors to meet the economy-wide targets".
The Aviation Environment Federation has set out three tests, to apply to the Airports Commission's Interim Report, published on 17th December 2013. These are on climate: "Does the Commission demonstrate a pathway to meet our national climate change target in a one or two new runways scenario using realistic assumptions?". On quality of life: "Does the Airports Commission only short-list options that will not worsen the quality of life for communities around airports?" and on Social Cost Benefit Analysis: "In light of extensive challenges to the assumptions of economic benefits of expansion and recommendations by a well known economic consultancy firm, does the Airports Commission commit to carrying out a Social Cost Benefit Analysis of each of the short-listed proposals over the course of 2014?" They have had a quick, initial look at the Interim Report, and set out areas on each of these where there is evidence of "positive steps" and areas of "missed opportunities". On climate AEF regret that there is uncertainty on international agreements, and that non-CO2 impacts of aviation may need to be taken into account in the future - but are not yet. On quality of life, AEF regrets that noise, air quality and local impacts have not yet been satisfactorily addressed. AEF say a clear and transparent social cost benefit analysis of each of short-listed options is needed as part of the Commission's appraisal in 2014.
France, Germany, and the UK governments have come out jointly to oppose the European Commission’s proposal to amend the aviation ETS to cover emissions from all flights within EU airspace. They want to continue to “stop the clock”, which exempts all long-haul flights. That means 75% of emissions from flights using European airports are uncontrolled or unregulated. Such a move is clearly not motivated by environmental considerations. Four NGOs (Transport & Environment, the Aviation Environment Federation, Réseau Action Climat France, and Bund (Friends of the Earth – Germany) ) have written to French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and UK prime minister David Cameron to express deep concerns about their governments’ continued efforts to weaken aviation ETS. The NGOs are calling on the leaders to urgently withdraw the UK/Germany/France joint proposal and lend their government’s support to base the ETS on regional airspace. They also urge the leaders to support the European Commission's proposal to ensure enforcement measures are taken against airlines which have failed to comply with their 2012 obligations.
The prospects of carbon emissions from aviation being adequately accounted for by the EU ETS in future look bleak. The Commission has proposed changing the law so aviation emissions that take place outside EU air space are exempt. But Germany, France and the UK want to exempt foreign airlines from the ETS entirely - even for the portions of flights that take place within EU airspace - because anything less would not be politically acceptable to China, India, Russia and the United States. Some MEPs are now lining up against the Commission as well. The Parliament is still likely to be evenly split, when it comes time to vote, between those who oppose any retreat, those who support the Commission's semi-retreat, and those who support the member states' full retreat. The problem with the partial retreat is that foreign airlines (other than those from small developing countries) would still be liable for emissions taking place within EU airspace for flights landing or taking off at EU airports. Even the most stalwart European lawmakers have admitted privately that they could not hope to hold out against the combined pressure of Beijing, Washington and Airbus. The choice now lies between partial retreat and (more likely) full retreat. There will be a vote in January about the draft proposal.
The European Parliament's environment committee rapporteur, Peter Liese, wants to tighten an EU directive on aviation in the EU ETS. The German liberal MEP, who is steering the draft directive through Parliament, is backing the EC's compromise proposal, while proposing amendments to further strengthening the ETS. Peter Liese is advising the EU to revise its relevant legislation by 2016, not 2020, to put more pressure on ICAO to reach a global deal sooner rather than later. ICAO agreed in October to develop a global MBM to reduce aviation CO2 emissions, at its next general assembly in 2016. That could take effect in 2020. But European trust in the ICAO outcome is waning, as its record on action on CO2 in the past is dismal. Liese said: “....it is not at all sure that the ICAO Assembly in 2016 will really succeed to adopt clear rules for the MBM.” His draft proposal is effectively threatening the ICAO that the EU will revert to a full ETS from 2017 if global agreement is not reached. Already aviation gets special treatment in the ETS as only 15% of its permits are auctioned (higher % for other sectors) and the cap on emissions is only 5% lower, while other sectors have to reduce their emissions by 21% from their 1990 level by 2020. Environmental organisations reacted warmly.
According to a new scientific analysis, many tar sands wells are actually using more energy than they produce. If it requires a barrel of oil - or its equivalent in gas - to retrieve a barrel of oil, then what's the point? It appears this is only possible at present in Canada as the price of oil is lower than the price of oil, so it is commercially viable to burn the cheaper gas in order to get out the more expensive oil. It may make some (warped) financial sense, but it makes no energy or environmental sense. But if the price of gas rises, in relation to the price of the oil, these tar sand wells will go bust. The economics of oil extraction use the term EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Investment) - ideally with EROEI as high as possible (eg. the light, sweet crude found near the surface in Iraq). Other assessments have found the EROEI for tar sands may be 7:1 for extraction and 3:1 after it has been upgraded and refined into a useful fuel. Squeezing oil out of tar sand is an extremely wasteful process, requiring between 2 - 4 tons of tar sand and 2 - 4 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. The richest deposits are being exploited first, but already produce a low return - which will become worse once the "lowest hanging fruit" has been removed.
In hard economic times there is always a temptation for politicians to prioritise short-term economic growth and electoral success above cutting carbon emissions - despite recognition that man-made climate change is one of humanity's most important issues. This shows the importance of the Climate Change Act, which reached its 5th birthday this week. It was given Royal Assent in 2008, when it became the first national law committing to legally binding annual cuts in CO2 emissions. Its purpose is to limit the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted, not just long-term reduction targets, so 5 year carbon budgets are needed. And these are legally binding. There are people and politicians now who advocate weakening the 4th carbon budget, 2023 and 2027. But the CCC says there is no scientific or legal basis to do so, and if anything carbon pollution limits should be made tougher. The problem is that these budgets are set by politicians, not scientists. UK international aviation remains outside the carbon budgets. The UK Climate Change Act has so far successfully constrained UK politicians who want to ignore the reality of climate change. But it only covers the UK - the world needs a global carbon budget.