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
Twenty-one Nobel prize winners, many of whom have won Nobel Peace Prizes, have urged the EU to immediately implement the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) which would label tar sands as higher carbon ("dirtier") than other fuels. The Nobel laureates say the extraction of unconventional fuels – such as oil sands and oil shale – is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change. The powerful letter has attempted to restart the discussion about how tar sands and oil shale should be treated in the EU, a discussion that has been delayed for too long, following a massive lobbying campaign by Canada, the US and the global oil industry. Conventional oil has been given a value of 87.5g of CO2 equivalent per megajoule. In comparison, tar sands oil has a value of 107g, oil shale 131g and coal-to-liquid 172g. The laureates quote IEA warnings that unconventional fuel sources are especially damaging to the environment and climate, and its calculation that two-thirds of known fossil-fuel reserves must be left in the ground ‘to avoid catastrophic climate change’. The letter says the time for positive action is now. The EU can demonstrate clear and unambiguous leadership on this.
India has said it will oppose the EU's plan to include flights from all airlines in European airspace (other than airlines from most developing countries). The USA also opposes the plan, with a US politician saying the EU proposal is contrary to a law intended to shield US airlines from such charges. Last week the European Commission proposed making all airlines pay for emissions only over European airspace - rather than the original system in which the carbon from the full length of all flights using EU airports. USA, India and China want the EU to back down, so no aviation emissions anywhere are included in a charging system. India and China contribute well over 1% of global aviation CO2, so they were included, unlike smaller and poor countries. Reuters says that along with China, India has defied the EU, even refusing to submit emissions data before the EU suspended it for a year amid threats of a trade war. The US might go as far as invoking a law signed by President Barack Obama in November 2012 that would shield Us airlines from what US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx may deem to be an unfair charge.
The aviation industry knows it is provides an exceptionally high carbon way to travel, and is keen to find ways to try to disguise this fact. In reality, a passenger on a medium length flight (2,000 - 4,000 miles or so) in a modern plane is probably responsible for roughly the same amount of carbon as someone driving the same distance alone in a car that does an average around 48 miles per gallon (like at Toyota Yaris). That is excluding non-CO2 climate effects. Approximate figures - each car trip (including number of passengers) is different, as is each plane trip. Saying that air travel per passenger is lower carbon than a car journey is missing the point for two important reasons: 1. Most people would think twice about driving 3,000 or 4,000 miles. And back. It is easy and quick (as well as much cheaper) by plane. So people make these trips more often, and are encouraged to travel more. 2. Figures do not take in to the non-CO2 impacts of aircraft emissions, which are likely to approximately double the climate impact. So now Virgin are trying to make out that flying is lower carbon than driving. This is disingenuous nonsense - comparing chalk and cheese - and is choosing very carefully which figures to use. As WWF-UK point out, Virgin is increasing its number of passengers, and getting people to fly more often, as fast as it can, so raising the overall emissions. Don't be hoodwinked by the greenwash!
Writing in the Huffington Post, James Lees ( (Research and Communications Officer, Aviation Environment Federation - AEF) says the Airports Commission is wrong in its preliminary conclusion - announced by Sir Howard Davies on 7th October - that a new runway is needed. In his blog James goes through the list of strong arguments why no new runway capacity is needed. These include climate impacts. The CCC guidance suggests the number of air passengers could perhaps rise by 60% over 2005 levels, by 2050. However, this does not take any account of the non-CO2 impacts of air travel. Even allowing for 60% more passengers means the carbon emissions from UK aviation would rise to be a quarter of total UK emissions and require large carbon reductions from other sectors to meet the UK's 2050 target. And if a runway is built, how do we put the brakes on the aviation industry's growth? James concludes that Sir Howard is aware of all these arguments, but has made the wrong conclusion. "To show that he really is 'alive to the climate change problem', Sir Howard should put the no new runway option back on the table."
The European Commission has proposed amending the ETS so that aviation emissions would be covered just for the part of flights that takes place in European regional airspace (including over the North Sea or Mediterranean). The adjustment in the legislation would apply from 1 January 2014 and until a planned global market-based mechanism (MBM) becomes applicable to international aviation emissions by 2020, according to ICAO. European Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said "Europe is taking the responsibility to reduce emissions within its own airspace until the global measure begins'. Also that the aviation sector, like other sectors, has to contribute to cuts in EU carbon emissions, as aviation emission are increasing fast – doubling since 1990. The proposal needs to be agreed by the European Parliament and the Counci, before April 2014. The proposal covers all CO2 emissions from flights between airports in the European Economic Area (EEA), including Norway and Iceland. Parts of flights outside the EEA are not covered, and flights of developing countries - of which their aviation emissions are less than 1% of the global whole - are not included.
The European Commission has, under intense international pressure, proposed to reduce its ETS for aviation to only cover flights in European airspace. The proposal would only cover 35% of aviation emissions compared to the original aviation EU ETS. It would cover flights by all airlines, except from less developed countries, which contribute 1% or less of global aviation CO2. Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, said: “It is disgraceful that foreign and industry pressure has obliged Europe to shrink its own aviation emissions law to the bare minimum.” The EC’s text comes shortly after the conclusion of the ICAO triennial assembly, where delegates, in a political decision, finally agreed to talk about the details of a global market based measure for 2020 but rejected interim measures like the EU ETS. The current proposal would leave the vast bulk of EU aviation emissions - which come from long-haul flights – unregulated. T&E urges the European Parliament and Member States to include an option to extend the aviation emissions coverage of the ETS to a 50/50 basis in 2017.
At a meeting on 7th October, RSPB asked Sir Howard Davies whether environmental concerns were being used to filter the 58 proposals received by the Commission, Sir Howard stated clearly that any proposal not meeting the standard would be ruled out. The RSPB welcome this statement, and believe that rules out a Thames Estuary airport. However they remain concerned that Sir Howard seems to believe aviation expansion in the south east is still likely, even though it could compromise agreements to reduce CO2 emissions. On the 7th October there was also a meeting of Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by Joan Walley. She said "Emissions are currently not falling fast enough to prevent a dangerous destabilisation of the global climate in the coming decades. It would be incredibly short-sighted to slacken our carbon budgets now." The Committee has found that the UK's existing carbon budgets represent the minimum level of emissions reduction required to avoid a global 2 degrees temperature rise - and the UK's leading climate scientists did not believe loosening the budgets was warranted by the science.
In their response to the disappointing outcome of the ICAO negotiations on curbing global aviation emissions, WWF said ICAO had missed the opportunity to start reducing emissions immediately. They have only committed to possibly agree an MBM in 2016, to come into effect in 2020. There is no guarantee they will agree it. This means little will be done before 2020. WWF said the science is clearer than ever - and 2020 is too late. Jean Leston, Transport Policy Officer of WWF-UK, said: “The world has waited 16 years for ICAO to demonstrate its serious commitment to reducing aviation emissions. What we got today seems a very small return for that effort. We expect a lot more ambition and commitment from ICAO over the next three years if a global, market-based mechanism is ever going to materialize. .....By essentially restricting the EU’s ETS for aviation to its own carriers and airspace, ICAO has handicapped the world's leading legislation to put a price on aviation pollution and once again allowed skyrocketing emissions to continue climbing.” With the IPCC saying we need to cut CO2, leaders need to be taking every opportunity to do so.
The ICAO talks in Montreal are now closed. ICAO cobbled together a weak resolution, that lays the foundation for a Market Based Measure (MBM) perhaps some time in future. This is to be brought to the next ICAO Assembly in 2016. ie more years of delay. The resolution states that, if an agreement on a global MBM is decided upon at the next Assembly, it must be implemented by 2020 – the year after which any growth within the industry must be carbon neutral. Jean Leston, Transport Policy Manager at WWF-UK, said: “There is nothing in this resolution that guarantees an MBM. All we’ve got is a decision to develop one over the next 3 years and then that has to go to Assembly for agreement in 2016.” Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, said, “The EU put its faith in the ICAO process, and because of unacceptable weakening and delay, this faith has now been shattered." The ICAO agreement has also decimated the EU's ETS, which has been reduced to the bare minimum. The EU can now only impose its ETS on flights that both depart and land from within its own airspace. For aircraft emissions emitted in EU airspace by planes that have come from outside the EU, this can only be done with the consent of the other country.
As the climate talks in Montreal drag on, with a draft text expected this Friday or Saturday, it appears there could be an impact of some of the US negotiators having to fly home - as being government employees, their offices have been closed down due to lack of funding. The US has been one of the biggest obstacles to finding an agreement, so the absence of some may have a positive impact. A very weak draft deal presented this week has been described as a “dream come true” for airlines. It will not allow the EU to cover overflights – flights that do not land or take off from somewhere in the EU – without mutual agreement. This would mean the ETS could only cover sovereign airspace and not regional airspace as previously announced. It appears that the UK, France and Germany are prepared to water down the EU's position as a way to strike a global deal, afraid of a trade war. There is concern that this would damage the whole ETS and not be agreed by the European Parliament.