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
A PhD student at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research recently attended the public evidence session by the Airports Commission, on aviation and climate change. He writes in a blog that aviation's climate impact is a strategic question that the Airports Commission will have to try to answer – but that ultimately we as a society will have to answer. In deciding on future runway capacity the Commission will need to make a very stark decision on climate change mitigation: rely on a highly optimistic outlook on energy efficiency development, put forward by the aviation industry, to materialise; or fail the UK target under the Climate Change Act. (Or else build airport infrastructure that we will have no use for in the future - stranded assets). The Tyndall Centre says flying is one of the most carbon intensive activities you could possibly engage in (the most efficient aircraft, when fully seated, burn about one million kcal per person, per hour – try that for a workout – equating to about 100kg of CO2 added into the atmosphere). It is about the highest carbon activity known to man, on a per hour basis.
ENDS reports that Switzerland has asked for compensation from the EU on the grounds that international flights to and from its airports are unfairly included in the ETS. Switzerland's position is that if the compensation is not provided in cash, it could take the form of free emission allowances. But a number of solutions to the dispute are on the table and nothing has been agreed yet. Switzerland is unhappy at being implicitly treated as an EU member state by being excluded from the ‘stop the clock’ derogation, and EFTA countries were not included. EFTA-member Switzerland considers this to be legally unjust, particularly as member states benefit from EU ETS inclusion through revenues from auctioning emission allowances, while Switzerland does not. Swiss airlines and industrial facilities will be included in the carbon market link with the EU, likely to begin in 2015. At present, aviation is not part of the Swiss ETS.
On Tuesday 9th July, the Airports Commission held a public evidence session in Manchester, taking evidence on climate change and aviation.Tim Johnson and Cait Hewitt, from AEF, and Jean Leston from WWF took part. The Commission is due to publish transcripts of the session next week. One member of the audience, Kevin Lister who is a climate campaigner, has written a letter to Sir Howard, to set out the key issues on the link between aviation and climate, and the need for this to be clearly understood by the Commission. The letter reminds Sir Howard that his opening remark, “wanted the day to tease out the issues on aviation's impact on climate change,” but it is "just a bit difficult to know what there is to tease out that is not glaringly obvious - atmospheric CO2 will exceed 450 ppm towards the end of this decade"; also that climate change is probably already causing instability in the Middle East and is likely to cause more problems to societies; that biofuels may cause even worse problems to the natural world and the climate than fossil fuels; and that the robustness of demand models post 2030 is extremely questionable.
Lord Deben (John Gummer), who is the Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, has written to Sir Howard Davies and the Airports Commission on the issue of UK aviation and climate change. He reminds the Commission that UK aviation emissions are included in the UK's target to reduce economy wide CO2 emissions by 80% in 2050 on 1990 levels. This implies a trade off between emissions from aviation and from other sectors: the higher the level of aviation emissions, the deeper the emissions cuts required in other sectors to meet the economy-wide target. The CCC has illustrated how the 80% target could be achieved through reducing aviation emissions to 2005 levels in 2050 and reducing emissions in other sectors by 85% on 1990 levels. That would mean limiting demand growth to around 60% in 2050 compared to 2005. Unless the rest of the UK economy can cut emissions by over 85% (unlikely) then aviation demand cannot grow by more than 60%. Lord Deben recommends that this should be reflected in the Commission's economic analysis of alternative investments in airport infrastructure. Each should be assessed in terms of whether it would make sense if demand growth were to be limited to 60% by 2050.
The European Parliament has approved plans (by 344 to 311 votes) designed to boost the EU's ETS and drive green investment by tackling the glut of carbon allowances that have caused a huge fall in the price of CO2 this year. MEPs have voted in favour of "backloading" proposals so the EC can temporarily postpone the auction of 900 million allowances. In April stricter backloading plans were narrowly rejected. Bloomberg reported that the price of carbon allowances for delivery in December rose 7.2% to €4.60 per tonne. The deal gives assurances that the backloading won't be repeated and it won't lead to the permanent withdrawal of the delayed carbon allowances. WWF said that with carbon prices already at all-time lows, EU Member States now need to put the right price on pollution by strengthening today’s result and say: “Member states should back further measures to eliminate these toxic tonnes permanently from the EU’s carbon market.” CAN Europe and WWF call on EU policy makers to come up with robust proposals to increase EU climate action.
In a wide-ranging major speech on climate change President Obama launched an action plan that made reference to the role the United States is playing at the ICAO. Obama's Climate Action Plan states that: ..."at the International Civil Aviation Organization, we have ambitious aspirational emissions and energy efficiency targets and are working towards agreement to develop a comprehensive global approach." GreenAir online reports that with important negotiations taking place at the UNFCCC on agreeing a global climate treaty by 2015 to be enforced from 2020 to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the outcome at ICAO is being viewed by many as a barometer of how close nations are to finding common ground, with US leadership playing a vital role. Progress on aviation is important not only because of the carbon emissions from the industry, but as it represents an area where the international community could make headway in the near term. An agreement in ICAO at its meeting in September would give a valuable boost to international efforts more broadly, by showing that agreement in multilateral forums is possible.
Leaders at the G8 Summit reiterated their commitment to delivering action to tackle climate change, acknowledging they have "grave concern" about the failure to deliver sufficiently deep emission cuts and the economic and security risks that result from climate impacts. The British government had faced criticism from France and Germany for failing to include climate change on the main agenda. However, the final communique dedicates a page to climate change and states that "it is one of the foremost challenges for our future economic growth and well-being". "We remain strongly committed to addressing the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2020". This includes wanting ICAO to come up with agreement on market based, and non market based measures, at its September conference. Specifically, the statement commits the G8 to supporting the UNFCCC's efforts to deliver a new global climate change at the Paris Summit in 2015 and reiterates its desire to produce a more ambitious policy framework than the current one.
Achim Steiner, who is the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has written an op-ed in the China Daily and in China.org. He says that airlines need to cut their carbon emissions. "If the world is to head off dangerous climate change and somehow keep a global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsus, we need all hands on deck. That includes airlines." Aviation is responsible for some 5% of humnanity's impact on the climate." He adds: "Air travel is not only the fastest growing form of transport. It is also the most carbon intensive" and that a global agreement on a market-based measure is needed - through ICAO - to take effect by 2020, or soon after. That needs to be agreed at ICAO's meeting this September. Achim says: "In order to realize the future we want, and need, economies must urgently begin decoupling economic growth from natural resource use, including fossil fuels. Airlines must be part of that transformation. This can be the year when ICAO departs the runway and plots a course for a low carbon future. The first stop is a global deal in Montreal."
The World Bank Group seeks to offset the travel of its staff. The Bank acknowledges that passengers in premium (First and business) classes on a plane have a higher carbon footprint, so they have recalculated the World Bank Group footprint from their air travel, taking the class of travel into account. The Bank estimates that emissions per passenger in First class can be as much as nine times as high, and those in Business class can be three times as high, as those in Economy class. Those in premium classes not only have larger seats and more space per passenger (meaning that there can be fewer passengers, overall, in the plane) but there is often a lower load factor (the proportion of seats occupied) and they can take on more luggage (meaning more fuel has to be used to transport it). A Guardian journalist looked into the class issue in 2010 and concluded that the more passengers pay for a square metre of cabin, the more profit the airline makes and the more the premium travellers subsidise the cheaper classes of tickets. "Put another way, if no one flew business or first class, the price of economy travel would have to rise, leading ultimately to lower occupancy rates, fewer flights and less global warming." .
The International Energy Agency has produced a report, called "Re-drawing the Energy Climate Map" which looks at measures to deal with global carbon emissions. The report only looks at the energy sector, the biggest contributor to global emissions. (It did not look at aviation). The IEA said, as they said last year, that two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned if global CO2 emissions are to be held within the projected danger threshold of a 2C rise. They also say climate change could pass a critical level if the world waits until 2020 for the planned comprehensive UN deal to cut emissions. The IEA authors believe governments will find it easier to take smaller focused measures than to shift their entire economies to clean energy systems - and they hope competitive advantage to nations that can save more energy and cut emissions cheaply will be motivation for governments to act. This report comes at the same time as announcements of massive worldwide reserves of shale oil. It will not be possible to burn these, for many decades to come, without catastrophic climate impacts.