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
The ICAO meeting on 9th November is their last chance to see meaningful action on controlling CO2 emissions from international aviation this decade. ICAO has been under particular pressure to act ever since its 2004 decision not to develop a global measure to curb aviation greenhouse gases opened the way for the EU to move regionally by including aviation in its ETS. Opponents of the ETS say a global solution through ICAO is needed, but the USA and others have repeatedly blocked all possible options. A year ago the ICAO Secretary General pushed publicly for ICAO to agree a proposal for global action by March 2013. That deadline won’t be met but there is still a chance over the next 3 months that ICAO’s Council can finalise a proposal in March 2013 to be approved at its triennial meeting in September 2013. However, to achieve this, ICAO’s Council needs to agree this week on a much accelerated work plan and resolve the many pending political questions which prevent substantive progress. President Obama’s re-election presents the US with a real opportunity to lead.
The Energy and Climate Change select committee is recommending inclusion of aviation (and shipping) emissions in the UK Climate Change Act which the Government has to decide on by end of December. The Chairman, Tim Yeo, has sent letters to the key departments who will be making the decision, two of which (Treasury and DfT) are opposing inclusion. Tim Yeo has written to Sajid Javid at the Treasury, Patrick McLoughlin at the DfT and to Greg Barker at DECC. He sets out clearly that the advice of the Committee on Climate Change is very clear on this issue: if the UK is to make our fair share of effort towards a global 2°C climate objective, annual UK greenhouse gas emissions - including international aviation and shipping emissions - need to fall to around 160 MtC02e by 2050. If international aviation and shipping are excluded from the accounts, an 80% cut would allow other sectors to emit 160 MtC02e, with aviation and shipping emissions occurring in addition to this. This would lead to total emissions of around 200 MtC02e, which is not consistent with meeting a global 2°C climate objective.'
PwC - not an organisation normally thought to be a key advocate of limiting carbon emissions - has published its annual Low Carbon Economy Index report, which examined the progress of developed and emerging economies towards reducing their "carbon intensity", or their emissions per unit of gross domestic product. It says that current rates of reduction of carbon intensity in major economies shows we're heading for at least 6C degrees of warming rather than 2C by 2100. Even doubling our current annual rates of decarbonisation globally every year to 2050, would still lead to a 6C temperature rise. Global carbon intensity now needs to fall by an average of 5.1% a year for the next 39 years up to 2050 – a performance never achieved before. By contrast, only a 0.7% reduction in carbon intensity was achieved globally in 2011. and global carbon emissions went up over 3% in 2011 - which was a record high, according to the IEA. The PWC report warns that “governments and businesses can no longer assume that a 2C warming world is the default scenario.” With less than 4 weeks to the UN Climate Summit in Doha, the analysis illustrates the scale of the challenge facing negotiations.
A coalition of green groups [AirportWatch] has condemned the Treasury and DfTs move to remove international aviation and shipping from the UK's 2050 carbon targets. DfT officials told an Energy and Climate Change select committee hearing last week that the UK could save money in the future for other sectors of the economy if aviation and shipping were to remain outside of the UK's 5th carbon budget, due for consideration in 2015. The DfT did note that this would sacrifice the environmental benefit of including them in the budget, but is now thought to be working with the Treasury to highlight potential savings arising from exempting the two sectors, which are likely to account for around a quarter of the UK's total emissions by 2050. Green groups say that leaving aviation and shipping out of the UK carbon targets would put at risk the UK's target of delivering 80% emissions cuts across the economy by 2050. Instead of the 160 million tonnes of CO2 emissions the UK could emit by 2050 and keep within its goal, the country would be pumping out around 200 million tonnes should shipping and aviation be excluded.
AirportWatch has condemned plans to exclude international aviation and shipping from the UK’s carbon budgets, a move they claim would seriously damage the country’s targets to cut climate change emissions. Any suggestion from DfT and the Treasury for removal of aviation and shipping from the UK’s fifth carbon budget, due for consideration in 2015 will be actively opposed. At a select committee on energy and climate change meeting this week the DfT argued that the UK could save money in future if it were to drop aviation and shipping emissions from its 2050 target. The DfT did however note that this would sacrifice the environmental benefit of including them. The Committee on Climate Change stressed at the meeting that excluding these important sectors (likely to account for around 25% of the UK’s total emissions by 2050) would mean the UK would be very likely to miss our climate objective of limiting the risk of global warming exceeding 2 degrees C and there was now no good reason for excluding them. Representatives of the aviation and shipping industries confirmed that they were comfortable with aviation and shipping being included in budgets. Neither industry would either attract further costs or need to limit expansion as a result of their inclusion.
There have been press stories suggesting that European officials backing Airbus are recommending the suspension of ETS in order to avert a trade war with major economic powers such as China and the USA. China and India do not allow their airlines to participate in the ETS because the charge is for the whole flight distance, not just the section over Europe. Beijing has blocked purchases of European aircraft (Airbus) by its carriers, so Airbus is unhappy about losing its fastest-growing market and is putting strong pressure on the EU as they may lose plane sales. Those backing Airbus want a "solution" before April 2013, but the matter is not due to be dealt with by ICAO till September 2013. Connie Hedegaard has confirmed that there are "no changes in EU and member states approach on the ETS and aviation" and this is just pressure from Airbus. The EU has repeatedly said it won’t give up its pollution curbs on airlines.
The aviation industry is bullish about its prospects of decoupling growth in aviation from the growth in emissions. At least Boeing and BAA are, and a host of airlines and airports that are part of the "Sustainable Aviation Council". The SAC's 2012 roadmap argues that virtually all of the extra GHG that would be emitted by this rise can be cut by a combination of sleeker aircraft, leaner engines, smoother ground operations, more direct flight paths and up to 40% use of biofuels in global aviation. It also suggests that the use of carbon trading would mean aviation's current carbon footprint could be halved even if passenger numbers more than doubled. But aircraft emissions cannot be airbrushed away through carbon trading, as Tim Yeo and others suggest. Given a new dash for gas in the UK, new road building and then more aviation, where are the CO2 cuts needed for permits to trade actually going to come from? Damian Carrington explores the issues.
China signed an agreement with Germany for 50 Airbus planes worth up to $4 billion during Angela Merkel's visit to Beijing. This is the first significant order since a dispute over the ETS. The dispute between Beijing and the EU had allegedly interrupted earlier deals worth up to $14 billion. The Chinese news agency said China's ICBC Leasing and Airbus, whose parent company is Franco-German-led aerospace group EADS, signed the deal for 50 Airbus A320-family planes. China regularly orders aircraft in large batches timed to coincide with high-level contacts with US or EU leaders, but this deal apparently fell short of European expectations of a 100-plane order. Airbus and Chinese authorities also signed a $1.6 billion deal to extend an Airbus A320 assembly line at Tianjin. China continues to block the purchase of some 35 larger Airbus aircraft to protest against the ETS.
At present, there is no agreed figure for the amount of climate altering effect that is produced by aircraft at high altitude, including cirrus cloud formed by contrails, in addition to the effect of CO2 they emit. The UK government uses a multiplier of 1.9 for this extra impact by planes. An article in New Scientist in August 2011 presented evidence from a German scientist that contrail cirrus ended up covering 0.6% of Earth's surface – an area 9 times as great as that covered by line contrails as they emerge from the planes. The Germany researcher then used this figure to produce a more accurate estimate of the total energy trapped by contrails. Her calculations suggest a global figure of 31 mW/m2 – higher than that attributable to aviation CO2.
This piece from the Carbon Brief sets out how the carbon emissions from UK aviation are dealt with by the ETS, and why Tim Yeo (and others promoting huge expansion of UK air travel, beyond the limit recommended by the Committee on Climate Change), have got it wrong. Besides the apparent misunderstanding about the failings of the ETS, Yeo also suggested that that if the UK were to increase its airport capacity, carriers would be more likely to send their newer, more efficient planes to Heathrow. Carbon Brief explains that this would not happen as there doesn't seem to be any reason why airlines would send their newest planes to the UK over other EU destinations. If the ETS works as it is meant to, the price of carbon permits would go up, so the cost of flying would go up. And the UK would have to either cut down on aviation demand (very unlikely) or overstep its emissions cap, as no government would be popular if it tried to ration air travel.