The European Commission has proposed scrapping a mandatory requirement to label tar sands oil as highly polluting, after years of industry opposition. The new proposal abandons one obstacle to Canada shipping crude from tar sands to Europe, and will draw strong criticism from environmental campaigners and Green politicians. To extract the oil the tar sands have to be blasted with steam, using large amounts of gas and water. In 2011, the EU agreed that tar sands should be given a carbon value 20% higher than for conventional oil. However, member states could not agree, and the Commission has been reconsidering the proposal ever since. The new proposal released only requires refiners to report an average of the feedstock used. They do not have to single out tar sands. It retains, however, a method for calculating the carbon intensity of different fuel types over their lifecycle. Some of this very high carbon oil is now making its way to Europe, and some will be turned into jet fuel. This will further increase the emissions from aviation, if the fuel used has required high carbon emissions in its production.
What is the problem with using oil derived from tar sands?
“Buried deep under the Albertan boreal forest is 140,000 square kilometres of bituminous sand, known as the ‘tar sands’ – or ‘oil sands’ by the Canadian government and oil industry. The 169.9 billion barrels of proven reserves in Canada are the third largest deposit of oil in the world after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Industry currently extracts 1.5 million barrels of tar sands oil per day (bpd), the majority of which is exported to the US.
“The tar sands are the world’s largest and dirtiest industrial project. Compared to conventional crude oil, oil from tar sands is much more energy-intensive to remove and process, requiring substantially more refining. Like many ‘unconventional’ types of oil, tar sands are extracted in an incredibly environmentally damaging way. The process emits 3.2 to 4.5 times more greenhouse gas than conventional oil extraction, uses vast amounts of fresh water and natural gas, and in many cases leaves behind lakes of toxic pollution. Tar sands developments destroy vast tracts of forest habitat, threatening wildlife with extinction. The resulting pollution has been thought to cause local communities, often First Nations, to suffer rare forms of cancer.”
Commission scraps plan to label tar sands as polluting
The European Commission has proposed scrapping a mandatory requirement to label tar sands oil as highly polluting, after years of industry opposition.
The new proposal abandons one obstacle to Canada shipping crude from tar sands to Europe, and is likely to draw strong criticism from environmental campaigners and Green politicians.
Last June, EurActiv reported about the draft European Commission proposal.
It is suggested in a revised draft law, how refiners should report the carbon intensity of the fuel they supply.
The debate about labelling tar sands, also known as oil sands, dates back to 2009, when EU member states approved legislation with the aim of cutting greenhouse gases from transport fuel sold in Europe by 6% by 2020, but failed to agree how to implement it.
In 2011, the European Union executive agreed that tar sands should be given a carbon value a fifth higher than for conventional oil. However, member states could not agree, and the Commission has been reconsidering the proposal ever since.
Confirming a draft seen by Reuters earlier this year, the proposal released on Tuesday only requires refiners to report an average of the feedstock used. They do not have to single out tar sands.
It retains, however, a method for calculating the carbon intensity of different fuel types over their lifecycle.
“It is no secret that our initial proposal could not go through, due to resistance faced in some member states,” Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in a statement.
“However, the Commission is today giving this another push, to try and ensure that in the future, there will be a methodology and thus an incentive to choose less polluting fuels over more polluting ones like, for example, oil sands.”
Oil sands crude, exploited by the major oil firms, such as BP Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, costs more to produce than conventional crude, and uses more energy, water and emits more carbon over its lifecycle.
Found in clay-like sands, it has to be dug up in open-pit mines with massive shovels, or blasted with steam and pumped to the surface, before oil can be extracted.
The revised proposal still has to be debated by member states through a fast-track procedure meant to take less than two months. It also needs a sign off from the European Parliament.
Laura Buffet, clean fuels officer at sustainable transport group Transport & Environment, sent EurActiv a statement saying:
“Company-specific carbon values would provide the incentive for one company to perform better than its competitors, for example by not supplying high-carbon oil like tar sands or oil shale in Europe. If company-specific values are not mandatory, at the very least we must ensure that they are an option to reward oil companies for not bringing in high-carbon oil.”
FQD – Fuel Quality Directive or Frequently and Quietly Delayed?
March 27, 2014 (Transport & Environment)
The Fuel Quality Directive (known in the Brussels bubble by the acronym FQD) is the missing link in the Barroso Commission’s 2020 climate and energy package. This law aims to reduce the carbon intensity of Europe’s transport fuels by 6% by 2020. But its real impact depends on its ‘implementing measures’. These measures rank different types of biofuels and fossil fuels based on their greenhouse gas emissions. They also set up rules requiring oil companies to report the carbon intensity of the fuel they supply. Because of fierce lobbying by oil companies and the Canadian government, the FQD remains unimplemented to this day. This timeline shows the delayed progress of the FQD. http://www.transportenvironment.org/publications/fqd-fuel-quality-directive-or-frequently-and-quietly-delayed
FQD – an oily tunnel. But will there be light at the end?
Under the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), oil companies must reduce the carbon intensity of their transport fuels by 6% by 2020. But heavy lobbying from industry, Canada and the US has led to a weakened Commission proposal. Laura Buffet of Transport & Environment argues that the option for oil companies to report accurate company-specific carbon values for their different oil is crucial for an effective FQD.
Recent protests greeted the first major shipment of high-carbon Canadian tar sands oil to enter Europe, with 600,000 barrels arriving at a Bilbao refinery. On almost exactly the same day, EU media reported that the European Commission is planning to weaken the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), a law to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of Europe’s transport fuels by 6% by 2020, in order to appease oil industry, Canadian and US government lobbying. As is often the case, there is some truth to the reports on the FQD – but from the version of the draft proposal that T&E has seen, we can say that there are still some useful elements in this weakened text.
The Commission has given in by making the oil industry as a whole, and not individual companies, accountable for the carbon footprint of the fossil fuels that they sell. While the proposal recognises that higher carbon values should exist for unconventional oil like tar sands and oil shale, in terms of complying with the 6% decarbonisation target, fuel suppliers would only use one EU average carbon value. So there is an industry-wide average value instead of different company-specific carbon values for their various sources of oil.
That is a very strange, unfair and inefficient choice. Imagine the same thing for the car industry; it would mean that if Ford chooses to specialize in SUVs, all the others would have to make up for Ford’s cars’ extra emissions. Note that it is the oil industry itself that has asked for this collective arrangement. Either it thinks the law will not be serious, or it behaves like a cartel. The truth is probably a bit of both. Either way, it takes away the incentive to keep tar sands oil – and other high-carbon oil, for that matter – out of Europe. That is a very serious thing, also because it will drive up the cost of our climate policy.
But the sheer fact that big oil and North America are still lobbying in Brussels suggests that this proposal can still have value when it will finally emerge, hopefully this summer.
The draft may not oblige companies to report their individual performance, but it does allow them to do so with a so-called ‘opt-in’ clause. Logically, this might be attractive for the better-performing companies – those with relatively low-carbon products. Strangely enough, even allowing oil companies to use their own performance seems a bridge too far for some departments in the Commission. And surely, and tellingly, the oil industry lobby wants its members not to have this choice either.
The text takes positive steps by calling for the differentiation of oils via their crude trade names. These trade names give an indication of the origin of the oil and indirectly of the initial fields where the crude has been extracted. Fuel suppliers are therefore expected to set up tracking systems for the origin of the petrol and diesel sold. These steps are the start of a much-needed improvement in transparency in the oil market. As other sectors, like the food and car industries, begin to disclose more information about their products, consumers and investors will push for oil companies to do the same. It is about time.
It’s too early for a final verdict, as we still need to see a final proposal and then the actual EU law. Under heavy pressure, the Commission is backtracking. But the oil industry will have to be, and will be, part of the solution, not just part of the problem. And the FQD will be very far from perfect. But it will be a start.
University of Calgary analysis tar sand oil extraction show it is sometimes not even a net producer of energy
November 28, 2013
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.
Nobel laureates demand European Commission action to classify oil from tar sands as very high carbon
October 28, 2013
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.
Tar sands extraction is one of the biggest threats to our climate. While Canada and the EU go head to head over the Fuel Quality Directive, and Obama battles hundreds of thousands of US pipeline protesters, a little-known company is planning to slip tar sands-derived fuel into Europe, discreetly and quietly.
We need to pipe up about this now, before it’s too late.
The majority of Valero’s operations are focused on the business of taking crude oil from various sources, processing it at its refineries to produce gasoline (petrol), diesel, jet fuel, asphalt, petrochemicals, and other products, then selling them either on the market or directly to the consumer through its 6,800 retail outlets.
US-based Valero Energy is the world’s largest independent petroleum refiner (a company which refines crude oil, but doesn’t drill for it).
Valero has an appalling environmental record, having repeatedly violated air and water pollution legislation, funded climate change deniers, and fiercely opposed carbon reduction legislation.
Valero is heavily involved in tar sands.
Valero has committed to taking on at least 100,000 barrels a day (20% of initial capacity) from the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline until 2030. The company has also recently upgraded its Port Arthur refinery in Texas, increasing its ability to process heavy sour crude (such as tar sands oil) to 80% of its 310,000 barrels per day capacity. Port Arthur is located where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is planned to finish, on the Texas Gulf Coast, perfectly positioned for export to Europe and Latin America.
Valero has recently expanded into the UK.
In August 2011, Valero purchased the Pembroke refinery in Wales, marking its first foray beyond the Americas. The £450 million deal also included ownership interests in four major pipelines and 11 fuel terminals, a 14,000 barrel per day aviation fuels business, and more than 1,000 Texaco-branded service stations in the UK and Ireland.
In an investor presentation in 2011 Valero (… demonstrated….) its plans to export diesel from its Gulf Coast facilities to Europe:
By 2012, Valero’s investor presentation was showing this map. Worried yet?
[The red lines are “Diesel / Jet” ]
It is difficult to ascertain the exact details of Valero’s plans. Pembroke refinery is not itself configured to process heavy oil straight from the tar sands.
Oil coming to Pembroke or elsewhere in the UK would come from refineries in the Gulf Coast and would include a blend of oil from different origins, making the supply chain difficult to trace. But as more tar sands oil finds its way to the Gulf Coast, more and more of this is likely to originate from the tar sands.
But wasn’t the Keystone XL pipeline stopped?
The Keystone XL pipeline has faced severe opposition from environmentalists, farmers, landowners, First Nations and the general public, and is currently locked in legislative battle in Congress. However, the southern section of the route, from Oklahoma to Texas, was given support by the Obama Administration and construction has already started. In the meantime a series of alternative pipelines routes out of Alberta are being explored.
And wasn’t the FQD meant to prevent tar sands coming here?
The EU Fuel Quality Directive (FQD)would discourage the use of high-emission crude oil, like tar sands, in the EU transport sector. Despite strong support for the legislation from the EU Parliament, EU Commission and many member states, the FQD has been subject to aggressive lobbying from the Canadian government and oil companies like Shell and BP, causing severe delays.
Assuming it is eventually successful, the FQD will still not actually ‘ban’ fuel derived from tar sands, but act as an economic disincentive. It will also not prevent tar sands-derived products that are used in sectors other than transport, such as ‘petcoke’, a highcarbon solid fuel used in steel refining, power stations and cement production.
Is there already tar sands oil coming to Europe?
There is a tiny trickle of oil derived from tar sands coming into several locations, such as the Netherlands, Spain and France – but it is almost impossible to accurately trace. And guess who is behind most of this oil – Valero.
Greenpeace and Platform’s report, Tar Sands in Your Tank, provides more information.
The tar sands industry needs to be shut down, not expanded. What can we do?
Challenge Valero to share information. We need to force Valero to fully disclose the origin of the oil it imports to Pembroke and other locations in the UK, as well as its long and medium term plans for how this might change based on pipeline expansion in the US.
The EU is negotiating a Fuel Quality Directive (FQD)with the aim of encouraging the use of low-carbon transport fuels and discouraging the use of high-emission fuel. It aims to reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions from road transport by 6% before 2020.
An independent study concluded that oil from tar sands produces 23% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude. Based on this, the EU wants to label tar sands oil as more polluting than conventional oil, which would have the effect of strongly discouraging tar sands imports into the European market.
As a result, the Canadian government is fighting it tooth and nail, largely due to the precedent this would set for other important markets – such as US states. It could also discourage planned tar sands extraction projects in other parts of the world, such as Madagascar.
Once the EU had secured a peer-reviewed study confirming the highly carbon-intensive nature of tar sands extraction, Canada switched tack and beganstalling the FQDby claiming tar sands shouldn’t be singled out until every other possible source of transport fuel is measured for carbon-intensity.
The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF), a policy-focused UK NGO, is producing a series of policy briefings, to inform the airport expansion/runway debate. The issue remains whether to build a new runway, not merely where. AEF’s new briefing “AIRPORT EXPANSION AND CLIMATE CHANGE – Is a new runway compatible with climate policy?” is a concise, easy to read, document setting out the facts very clearly. A key point is that a new runway would have very significant climate implications that fall outside the remit of the Airports Commission to address. AEF explains how both the Committee on Climate Change and Airports Commission have stated that demand for flights in the UK will have to be restricted to prevent CO2 emissions from the aviation sector overshooting the level consistent with the Climate Change Act. However, neither has identified how this can be achieved if a new runway is built, leaving a policy gap. That gap would result in the UK’s climate targets being compromised. The options are to dramatically increase the cost of flying (by the UK acting alone), restrict capacity available at regional and other South East airports to below today’s levels – or better and more acceptable – make optimum use of existing airport capacity.
New AEF Policy Briefing: Is a new runway compatible with UK climate policy?
A major consideration for the next government when considering the recommendations of the Airports Commission will be whether a new South East runway should be ruled out on climate grounds. Our new policy briefingexamines this concern and considers what options would be available to a future Government if a new runway is built in order to ensure that the aviation sector plays its part in meeting climate change commitments.
We are publishing our briefing at a time when high profile members of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have all indicated that they remain open to the possibility of an additional runway in the South East. [The LibDems have now voted, at their conference, against a new south east runway, though the leadership wanted to get an amendment to back a new Gatwick runway. David Laws, writing the LibDem manifesto for the 2015 election, has said the party will respect the views of its members, and not just dismiss them, to back Gatwick].
We believe that a new runway would have very significant climate implications that fall outside the remit of the Airports Commission to address.
The Airports Commission’s analysis has built on the work [Dec 2009 CCC] of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in modelling the increase in demand for flights that can be accommodated while keeping aviation emissions at a level compatible with the Climate Change Act by 2050.
Both the CCC and Airports Commission have stated that demand for flights in the UK will have to be restricted to prevent carbon emissions from the aviation sector overshooting this level. However, neither has identified how this can be achieved if a new runway is built, leaving a policy gap that would, we argue, result in the UK’s climate targets being compromised.
If a new runway is built, the available policy options would be to either dramatically increase the cost of flying (by the UK acting alone) or to restrict capacity available at regional and other South East airports to below today’s levels.
Both options would be likely to be politically undeliverable.
AEF’s view, therefore, is that rather than constructing any new runways, making best use of existing airport capacity continues to be the best approach to managing future aviation demand.
This briefing on the climate change impacts of a new runway is part of our series of briefings on the work of Airports Commission which examines why the question about UK airports should be ‘whether’ and not just ‘where’ to build a new runway.
The Airports Commission has concluded that one new runway in the South East would be compatible with the UK’s climate commitments. But in reality new runways cannot be reconciled with legislated carbon goals unless a significant gap in the policy for reducing aviation emissions is addressed by the next government.
LIMITS TO UK AVIATION’S CO2 EMISSIONS
Under the Climate Change Act, the UK is required to reduce emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. While aviation emissions are not formally included in the five year carbon budgets, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended setting aside 37.5 Mt of the UK emissions budget in 2050 for aviation, equivalent to the sector’s emissions in
2005. The Airports Commission refers to this as the emissions cap. According to the CCC, a higher level of aviation emissions would be high risk and not economically optimal.
Improved efficiency of aircraft should permit some growth in the amount of flying without aviation CO2 emissions breaching the carbon cap. The Airports Commission assumes a shift to larger aircraft would mean passenger numbers could increase by 67% and the number of aircraft movements by 38% by 2050.
THE POLICY GAP FOR AVIATION EMISSIONS
Today, aviation takes up around 6% of UK emissions and the proportion is forecast to increase. The Airports Commission’s analysis suggests that emissions may breach the aviation cap even without expanding capacity. See graph below. Building a new runway would lock in future increases in CO2 emissions through significant investment in carbon-intensive infrastructure.
Naomi Klein has written a new book, called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Professor Kevin Anderson has written about one of the key issues of how big business in dealing with carbon emissions, and the need to understand the difference between society (or business) actually cutting carbon emissions, or just cutting them per unit of output. This is a vital distinction, but one often lost in the fog of marketing and publicity. If an organisation manages to cut its carbon emissions by, say 10% while producing the same amount of product, that is great. But if it increases production by, say, 20%, the net impact is an increase in emissions. This is very much the case with the much hoped for carbon efficiencies by the aviation industry. Globally through IATA hopes for “An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year to 2020” (how it is measured is not defined). But the industry wants to expand by at least 5% per year. So regardless of the gains in fuel efficiency, the net effect is more carbon emitted. The aviation industry wants “carbon neutral” growth after 2020, meaning no NET increase in carbon emissions, by trading carbon permits with sectors than are genuinely cutting carbon overall.
Zachary Karabell’s analysis muddles energy efficiency with absolute reductions in emissions. We are many times more efficient now than we were in 1970 and even more than in 1920 – yet energy consumption and emissions continue their relentless rise. The climate doesn’t give a damn about efficiency, only about emissions. So if companies, governments and individuals, at least the wealthier amongst us, are to make a positive contribution, we need to be deliveringabsolute reductions in our emissions. And if we are serious about avoiding the 2°C characterisation of dangerous climate change, then those absolute reductions need to be in double figures (i.e. over 10% p.a.). Anything less and we certainly should not be claiming to be moving in the right direction – rather moving in the wrong direction, just at a slower rate. So in that regard, Zachary’s subtitle that “multinational corporations” are doing something to ”halt climate change” is categorically wrong. They may be doing something to reduce the rate of increase in climate change – but trying to halt it they are not!
Zachery’s highlighting of Maersk as an example of a company with “sustainability and energy-efficiency central to [its] business model” ignores how history typically demonstrates a divergence between these two goals. Certainly Maersk needs to be congratulated relative to an industry who, even assuming its proposed efficiency measures were implemented in full, is set to triple its emissions by 2050 relative to1990 (or double compared with 2010). Lets be clear about this, Maersk, as the best of a bad bunch, is implementing polices that fall a long way short of anything approaching what would be necessary for a 2°C pathway; but they are in good company. All the other firms noted by Zachary could sail a Maersk ship sideways through the gap between their rhetoric and delivery on climate change.
But it is not all down to the companies. Governments are also failing to implement the umbrella of low-carbon policies within which companies could compete on a level(ish) playing field. At the same time, and not withstanding the recent marches and other good work, civil society demonstrates little appetite for anything other than an ongoing increase in its energy and material consumption – and hence in its emissions.
Zachary’s emphasis on the US reducing its emissions by 10% since 2005 demonstrates our desire to hide, even from ourselves, the real story of an inexorable rise in emissions. In the same way that the climate doesn’t care about efficiency, it doesn’t differentiate between the geographical origin of emissions – they all end up in the atmosphere changing the climate. So it is the carbon-profligacy of our lifestyles that matters, not that we have conveniently exported the emissions to another country. This places a different complexion on the issues.. Between 1990 and 2007 the lifestyles of US citizens had, on average, higher emissions year on year – rising by 34% in seventeen years. The reduction that followed was primarily down to the recession and not the consequence of judicious policies on efficiency and emissions by corporate America or the government. Now, with the US economy picking up, so lifestyle emissions are again showing early signs of returning to growth. There is also no meaningful solace to be gained from the US love affair with shale gas. Whilst it may be good for energy security, in terms of emissions the development of shale gas has gone hand in hand with anincrease in the US production of fossil fuels – measured in terms of their carbon emissions (assuming they are combusted).
So I don’t think Zachary’s arguments that “Naomi Klein Is Wrong” stack up. True to say Naomi does not have all the answers – but who does? Set against even a weak 2°C framing of dangerous climate change, she’s not far off the mark. By contrast to suggest, as Zachary does, that Klein’s “rhetoric risks obscuring just how much is being done by large companies around the world to reduce their carbon emissions and environmental footprint” implies a misunderstanding of the timeliness of carbon budgets and their implications for evaluating meaningful action.
However, in the end I think we should studiously avoid setting Zachary’s arguments against Klein’s. When it comes to delivering on our repeated international commitments on climate change we must all solemnly hang our heads in shame, take some time to reflect and then begin anew from where we are today. Meeting our repeated commitments remains an achievable goal – just. But lets not pretend it’s only an incremental step away from where we are today. As Klein rightly notes, “this changes everything.”
Higher oil prices have made US airlines work to control costs. Between 2002 and 2012, the price of jet fuel quadrupled and fuel bills rose from 15% to more than 40% of the operating costs of US airlines, and their single largest operating expense. Airlines have made many efficiencies to cut fuel consumption, including now flying more slowly. Most of the fuel economies which have been implemented in the last decade will not be undone, even if oil prices were to fall (partly due to the possible future costs of CO2 emissions). There is an optimal cruising speed for each aircraft based on altitude. Flying faster increases the amount of fuel burnt. Historically, commercial aircraft have flown on average about 8% faster than their optimal cruising speed. Getting the aircraft to its destination quicker to pick up another load of passengers and minimise crew cost was worth the extra fuel expense. There is a trade-off between fuel consumption and time. But between 2004 and 2011, the average ground speed of seven major US airlines fell by 1.1%. More than anything else, however, airlines have focused on reducing excess weight.
Higher oil prices have had a traumatic effect on U.S. airlines, forcing carriers to re-examine every aspect of the way they do business in a bid to control costs.
Between 2002 and 2012, the price of jet fuel quadrupled from 70 cents per gallon to over $3. Fuel bills rose from 15 percent to more than 40 percent of the total operating costs of U.S. airlines to become their single largest operating expense.
The airlines have responded by changing almost every element of their operations – from restricting capacity growth, eliminating short routes and hiking baggage fees to instructing crews to fly aircraft more slowly and reducing the amount of water carried on board for lavatories and washing.
The results have been impressive. After peaking in 2005, jet fuel consumption in the United States has fallen by almost 15 percent, the equivalent of more than 200,000 barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
U.S. airlines’ fuel saving programme is just one example of how higher oil prices over the last decade have transformed transportation, and led to demand destruction which is likely to prove permanent. Most of the fuel economies which have been implemented in the last decade will not be undone, even if oil prices fall.
“There is a strong correlation between airline mission fuel efficiency and fuel price,” the National Center of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research wrote in a recent report (“The impact of oil prices on the air transportation industry” March 2014).
“There is ample evidence that airlines adopted new operational strategies to reduce total fuel burn for the same amount of traffic,” the centre concluded.
Some of the changes have been obvious. U.S. airlines have restrained growth in capacity and increased seat occupancy.
U.S. airlines measure capacity in available seat-miles while utilisation is measured in revenue passenger-miles.
Between 2007 and 2013, the number of available seat miles flown in the United States was cut by around 34 billion (3.25 percent) while revenue passenger-miles rose by 6 billion (0.8 percent).
The result is that seat occupancy, which the airlines call “load factor”, has risen from around 76 percent in 2004 to almost 83 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
While airlines have mostly maintained capacity on major trunk routes, shorter and less profitable ones with lower load factors have seen the number of seats cut or been eliminated altogether.
Carriers have also shrunk the amount of space between seats to increase the number of passengers on each flight and saved more space and weight on the aircraft by installing thinner seats.
Other changes have been much less visible. One of the biggest fuel savings has come from flying aircraft more slowly.
From the perspective of fuel consumption, there is an optimal cruising speed for each aircraft based on altitude. Flying faster increases the amount of fuel burnt.
Historically, commercial aircraft have flown on average about 8 percent faster than their optimal cruising speed. Getting the aircraft to its destination quicker to pick up another load of passengers and minimise crew cost was worth the extra fuel expense.
The trade-off between fuel consumption and time is captured in the airline cost index and implemented in the carrier’s flight management system.
But between 2004 and 2011, the average ground speed of seven major U.S. airlines decreased by 1.1 percent, resulting in an even bigger reduction in fuel consumption, according to the centre for operations research.
Airlines have been pushing for other changes in crew behaviour and operations. Several airlines told the operations researchers they had instructed pilots to use only one engine while taxiing around the airport in order to save fuel.
Most airlines are also trying to maximise the use of ground power for aircraft instruments, heating, cooling and starting turbine engines when the aircraft is on stand rather than using the aircraft’s own auxiliary power units (which consume jet fuel).
One airline has stipulated ground power must be plugged in within 1 minute of the plane arriving at the gate.
More than anything else, however, airlines have focused on reducing excess weight.
In most cases, airlines found aircraft were carrying more water than was actually consumed on the journey. By modelling consumption by the number of passengers and the length of the flight airlines have been able to cut the amount of water loaded on board.
The number of magazines carried has been reduced, and those that are must “pay their way”. Airlines have removed onboard ovens from flights that didn’t need heated food. Safety equipment for a water landing has been removed from aircraft which do not fly over water.
One airline told the researchers that its weight reduction programme had cut the weight of a typical Boeing 777 by 700 pounds.
For some fleets, average weights have actually been cut by as much as 10-15 percent, according to the operations research centre.
USING BIG DATA
One of the most attractive targets for weight reduction is the amount of fuel carried on board. Aircraft must carry contingency fuel to deal with delays, storms or diversions but the reserves add significantly to aircraft weight.
Most airlines are now trying to trim the amount of contingency fuel by using modelling to estimate how much extra fuel must be carried to ensure safe operation of the aircraft based on weather conditions and the availability of alternative airports in case the flight must be diverted.
In fact, big data and computer modelling are revolutionising most aspects of aircraft operation, but changing behaviour is not always easy.
There is often a tension between trusting decisions about contingency fuel, water and flying speed up to the professional judgement of the pilots and allowing them to be determined by a computer model. In many cases pilot contracts limit the operational data which gets reported back to the airline and the ways in which it can be used.
“Two airlines noted the difficulty of enforcing the single engine taxi policy,” the operations researchers explained. “The reason for this is because pilot contracts with airlines often limit access to pilot specific performance data, which includes specific reverse thrust settings.”
Cutting fuel reserves has been a particular source of contention. “For pilots, fuel is like insurance, they take extra fuel to deal with uncertainties in flight. They more fuel the less they care if uncertainties like traffic or weather come up. For the pilot, carrying more fuel means less stress.”
But most airlines are now using computer models to encourage pilots to modify their decisions, and in some cases to compel changes in operating practices.
The result has been a huge improvement in fuel efficiency. Between 1991 and 2012, U.S. airlines cut their fuel consumption at an average annual rate of 2.27 percent per revenue passenger-mile.
Between 1991 and 2001, when jet fuel prices were stable, most of the improvement came from upgrades in the aircraft fleet. Older more fuel hungry aircraft were replaced by more modern and efficient ones. After 2004, however, most of the gains have come from network rationalisation and changes in operating behaviour.
Each model of aircraft has a maximum range speed for a given total load (fuel plus payload), which is the speed at which it is most fuel efficient Flying slower or faster than this optimimum speed increases fuel consumption per mile flown.
There is an optimum speed for efficiency because the component of drag resulting from airframe skin friction against the air increases at a square function of air speed, but the drag resulting from generating lift decreases with air speed. (These are technically called parasitic drag and induced drag, respectively.)
The desirability of a low maximum range speed to reduce environmental and climate impacts is at odds in aircraft design with the benefit to revenue streams of making that design speed higher, to increase the passenger miles flown per day.
Aircraft weight is also a factor in fuel economy, because more lift-generating drag (induced drag) results as weight increases. If airframe weight is reduced, engines that are smaller and lighter can be used, and for a given range the fuel capacity can be reduced. Thus some weight savings can be compounded for an increase in fuel efficiency. A rule-of-thumb being that a 1% weight reduction corresponds to around a 0.75% reduction in fuel consumption.
Flight altitude affects engine efficiency. Jet-engine efficiency increases at altitude up to the tropopause, the temperature minimum of the atmosphere; at lower temperatures, the engine efficiency is higher. Jet engine efficiency is also increased at high speeds, but above about Mach 0.85 the aerodynamic drag on the airframe overwhelms this effect.
This is because above that speed air begins to become incompressible, causing shockwaves form that greatly increase drag. For supersonic flight (Mach 1.0 and higher), fuel consumption is increased tremendously.
Nonetheless, jets have about twice the cruise speed. The early jet airliners were designed at a time when air crew labor costs were higher relative to fuel costs than today. Despite the high fuel consumption, because fuel was inexpensive in that era the higher speed resulted in favorable economics since crew costs and amortization of capital investment in the aircraft could be spread over more seat miles flown per day.
Today’s turboprop airliners have better fuel efficiency than current jet airliners, in part because of their lower cruising speed and propellers that are more efficient than those of the 1950s-era piston-powered airlines.
Among major airlines, those which have turboprop equipped regional carrier subsidiaries typically rank high in overall fleet fuel efficiency. For example, although Alaska Airlines scored at the top of a 2011-2012 fuel efficiency ranking, if its regional carrier—turbo-prop equipped Horizon Air—were dropped from the consideration, the airline’s ranking would be lower.
As over 80% of the fully laden take-off weight of a modern aircraft such as the Airbus A380 is craft and fuel, there remains considerable room for future improvements in fuel efficiency.
The weight of an aircraft can be reduced by using light-weight materials such as titanium, carbon fiber and other composite plastics. Expensive materials may be used, if the reduction of mass justifies the price of materials through improved fuel efficiency.
The improvements achieved in fuel efficiency by mass reduction, reduces the amount of fuel that needs to be carried. This further reduces the mass of the aircraft and therefore enables further gains in fuel efficiency. For example, the Airbus A380 design includes multiple light-weight materials.
Airbus has showcased wingtip devices (sharklets or winglets) that can achieve 3.5 percent reduction in fuel consumption. There are wingtip devices on the Airbus A380. Further developed Minix winglets have been said to offer 6 percent reduction in fuel consumption.
Winglets at the tip of an aircraft wing, can be retrofitted to any airplane, and smooths out the wing-tip vortex, reducing the aircraft’s wing drag.
NASA and Boeing are conducting tests on a 500 lb (230 kg) “blended wing” aircraft. This design allows for greater fuel efficiency since the whole craft produces lift, not just the wings.
The blended wing body (BWB) concept offers advantages in structural, aerodynamic and operating efficiencies over today’s more conventional fuselage-and-wing designs. These features translate into greater range, fuel economy, reliability and life cycle savings, as well as lower manufacturing costs.
NASA has created a cruise efficient STOL (CESTOL) concept.
Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research (IFAM) have researched a shark skin imitating paint that would reduce drag through a riblet effect. Aircraft are a major potential application for new technologies such as aluminium metal foam and nanotechnology such as the shark skin imitating paint.
Jet aircraft efficiency
Jet aircraft efficiencies are improving: Between 1960 and 2000 there was a 55% overall fuel efficiency gain (if one were to exclude the inefficient and limited fleet of the De Havilland Comet 4 and to consider the Boeing 707 as the base case).
Most of the improvements in efficiency were gained in the first decade when jet craft first came into widespread commercial use. Between 1971 and 1998 the fleet-average annual improvement per available seat-kilometre was estimated at 2.4%.
Concorde the supersonic transport managed about 17 passenger-miles to the Imperial gallon; similar to a business jet, but much worse than a subsonic turbofan aircraft. Airbus states a fuel rate consumption of their A380 at less than 3 L/100 km per passenger (78 passenger-miles per US gallon)
Chancellor George Osborne has today again underlined his commitment to delivering a shale gas revolution in the UK, in a conference speech that ignored climate change threats. Osborne told the Conservative Party conference that the country needed to fast-track infrastructure decisions if it was to deliver on his vision of becoming the most prosperous and creative nation in the industrialised world. Some verbatim quotes: “We will build the high speed rail, decide where to put a runwayand support the next generation with starter homes in a permanent Help to Buy.” And ” Let’s face it, even today this country has spent forty years failing to take a decision about building a new runway in the South East of England.” While making the case for investment in new high and low carbon infrastructure the speech contained no mention of climate change, despite David Cameron last week telling the UN that he regards it as “one of the most serious threats facing our world”. New Environment Secretary Liz Truss could only manage, on climate, to say this:” we’re now leading international efforts to tackle climate change.”
Osborne promises new wave of high and low carbon infrastructure
Chancellor argues fracking, runways and new roads must be delivered alongside nuclear and renewables
By James Murray (Business Green)
29 Sept 2014
Chancellor George Osborne has today again underlined his commitment to delivering a shale gas revolution in the UK, in a conference speech that ignored climate change threats highlighted by his colleagues and promised urgent action to deliver new roads and runways.
Osborne told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that the country needed to fast-track infrastructure decisions if it was to deliver on his vision of becoming the most prosperous and creative nation in the industrialised world. He acknowledged that building new infrastructure was always controversial, but argued that the engineers and industrialists that invented the steam engine would not have waited 40 years to make a decision on a new runway in the south east or “leave these extraordinary shale gas reserves under our feet untouched”.
Referring to the statue of Matthew Boulton, William Murdoch and James Watt in Birmingham’s Broad Street, Osborne said these “golden boys” would have prioritised the development of new infrastructure.
“We should ask ourselves what the Golden Boys in that statue outside would have done,” he said. “Would they have said, our trains may be packed, our roads congested, our transport system can’t cope, but we won’t build any more roads or new railways? No they would not. Would they have said, yes we mined for coal deep underground, and explored for oil beneath our seas, but we should leave the extraordinary shale gas reserves untouched beneath our feet? No they would not.”
He also claimed they would not have delayed decisions to build new nuclear power plants, nor ignored the opportunities presented by GM foods.
“We must choose the future,” Osborne said. “We will tap the shale gas, commission nuclear power and renewables, and guarantee our energy for the future. We will build the high-speed rail, decide where to put a runway and support the next generation with starter homes in a permanent Help to Buy. We must learn from the past, not be the past.”
However, while making the case for investment in new high and low carbon infrastructure the speech made no mention of climate change, despite Prime Minister David Cameron last week telling the UN that he regards it as “one of the most serious threats facing our world”.
The speech also made no specific reference to clean technologies or the green economy and only one mention of renewables, despite it repeatedly hailing the promise of disruptive technologies.
Separately, Osborne committed to ensuring the UK has the lowest business taxes of any large industrialised economy and he stressed that spending cuts across Whitehall would continue, predicting that £25bn of further cuts were needed to eradicate the deficit and arguing that tax increases were not an option if the UK is to remain competitive.
Osborne offered no new energy or environmental policy commitments, but his outspoken support for fracking and airport expansion is bound to infuriate green groups who responded angrily to the speech on Twitter.
“Barely days after David Cameron touched down from the UN Climate talks, his Chancellor is promising more roads, more airports and more fracking – with no mention of the solutions needed to slash emissions,” said Friends of the Earth campaigner Donna Hume. “By pledging support for polluters, the Chancellor is not just making a mockery of the government’s environmental commitments, he’s throwing away the chance to create thousands of jobs in new green industries.”
The address came after Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss argued the government was delivering bold action to improve the environment and leading international efforts to tackle climate change.
“Families can enjoy clean rivers and beaches and have peace of mind in their own homes while children get to know the sound of birdsong in our woods and meadows,” she said. “This is not about targets or turbines. It’s about real improvements practical conservative environmentalism where a strong, healthy environment is a core part of a strong, healthy economy.”
She also praised the use of cutting-edge technology in a booming UK food industry and stressed that action was being taken to tackle rising flood risks.
“Our defences against flooding are being upgraded to make them more robust,” she said. “We are spending £3.2bn – half a billion more than the last government – better protecting 165,000 houses and 580,000 acres of farmland… I am determined that our flood defences will always be strong enough to protect us against the ravages of a changing climate.”
However, Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole argued that the coalition’s flood defence spending was still well below the level recommended by the government’s own climate change advisers.
“It’s encouraging that Liz Truss is ‘determined our flood defences will always be strong enough to protect us from a changing climate’ – but this requires investment, not just wishful thinking,” he said. “Climate change and cuts to flood defences under the Coalition mean there’s actually a half-billion pound hole in our flood defence budget. The Chancellor needs to state clearly that he will invest to protect millions of British homes from the ravages of climate change.”
Meanwhile, Shadow Environment secretary Maria Eagle accused Truss of ignoring a host of rural and environmental issues that demand urgent action. “Liz Truss made no mention of food banks, water bills, air pollution, the badger culls, horsemeat, forests or green jobs,” she said. “She told the country that British food ‘never had it so good’ while over a million people rely on food banks each year. This was a speech by an out of touch Environment Secretary with nothing to say about the real issues facing the British people.”
“And it’s not just roads. We’ve doubled spending on cycling. We’ve got the Airports Commission to deal with capacity in the south east. We’ve ordered thousands of new train carriages so commuters can get a seat. Rebuilt stations like Manchester Victoria, Reading, Nottingham and Wakefield. We’ve started electrifying rail lines so they are faster, cheaper to run and environmentally-friendly.”
!Backing the billions that business is investing in things like the new London Gateway port and our key airports like Heathrow, Gatwick and here in Birmingham.”
The future for Britain is to be a low tax country where people play by the rules.
The future for Britain is to be a pro-business country.
And we also have to build for that future.
Big decisions on infrastructure have always been controversial and always will be.
The railways were bitterly opposed in the nineteenth century.
The motorways were opposed in the twentieth century.
Let’s face it, even today this country has spent forty years failing to take a decision about building a new runway in the South East of England.
There are always one hundred reasons to stick with the past, but we need to choose the future.
We will build the high speed rail, decide where to put a runwayand support the next generation with starter homes in a permanent Help to Buy.
Liz Truss’ (Environment Secretary) speech is recorded as saying:
29th September 2014
POLITICSLiz Truss: Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2014
The Conservative Party: Conference.I have to confess that I was both delighted and surprised…….. when the Prime Minister offered me this role.I was delighted…because I love the countryside.I represent one of the most productive agricultural areas of the country in the finecounty of Norfolk….…..and I am infatuated with British food.But I was also surprised to be appointed because I have so much in common with….. Ed Miliband.We both grew up in left-wing households.We both have parents who are academics.His father talked about Marx and Trotsky over the dinner table.My mother took me on protests.I went on marches.I made banners.I went to peace camps.For me, it wasn’t ballet or My Little Pony.Instead, it was saving the planet…..and the CND.The most useful thing I learned…..was how to make myself heard in a crowd.Which I still make plenty of use of today.But while Ed stayed with the predictable Left Wing Establishment.I, Conference, became a rebel.I became a CONSERVATIVE.And I rebelled for 3 reasons.Because I believe that you can shape your own destiny. Because I believe people should succeed on merit.And as a practical Yorkshire girl….I believe in not just talking……. But in getting things done….And, when it comes to the Environment, the Labour Party have always been good attalking.While we’ve been really good at doing.It was a Conservative who pointed out that CFCs were damaging the ozone layer.It was a Conservative who championed international efforts to ban them.It was a Conservative who signed the Treaty phasing out their use.And the name of that Conservative was Margaret Thatcher. The ozone layer is getting better and we’re now leading international efforts totackle climate change. We have cleaned up almost 10,000 miles of river and improved our beaches.Numbers of important birds like the linnet and the goldfinch are on the rise.We are planting a million trees and over 20,000 acres of woodland.Our defences against flooding are being upgraded to make them more robust.We are spending £3.2 billion – half a billion more than the last government – better protecting 165,000 houses and 580,000 acres of farmland.We are constantly vigilant.All this means that families can enjoy clean rivers and beaches……..and have peace of mind in their own homes….….. while children get to know the sound of birdsong in our woods and meadows.This is not about targets or turbines.It’s about real improvements….. …….practical conservative environmentalism…….. where a strong, healthy environment….…..is a core part of a strong, healthy economy. And our Long Term Economic Plan. And that is exactly what our farmers and food producers need.Just like our country…….there once was a time that our food was in decline.We had an inferiority complex about our traditional dishes.We’d lost pride in our country……..and we’d lost pride in our food.The amount of British Food we consumed and produced went down.The last Labour government…….tied our farmers up in red tape….…… wasted £600 million on EU fines ….……..and left us with the worst bovine TB problem in Europe.The fact is: Labour don’t care about the countryside.They think that we can’t grow enough of our own food.They think that we can just outsource it.Well they are wrong.Decline is not inevitable.Under this government, food and farming is one of our biggest success stories.It’s our largest manufacturing sector….…….bigger than aerospace and car production put together.Modern farming is not about shire horses and steam.It’s about systems and satellites.At every stage of the supply chain there is cutting edge technology….….whether it’s GPS in tractors…..automated celery rigs…… or Sainsbury’s employing an army of coders.That’s probably why it’s one of the fastest growing areas for entrepreneurs.We’re helping producers compete by slashing red tape and opening up publicprocurement….as well as nearly 600 new overseas markets – thanks to the hard work of mypredecessors Owen Paterson and Caroline Spelman.Our exports have increased by more than £1 billion in the past four years.And the results are superb.We are growing wheat more competitively than the Canadian prairies.We’re producing more varieties of cheese than the French.And we are even selling tea to China.Yorkshire Tea.When it comes to British food and drink….……we have never had it so good,As well as exporting our fantastic food abroad, I want to see more British food soldin Britain.Two-thirds of the apples and nine-tenths of the pears that we eat are imported.Not to mention two thirds of the cheese.And that is a disgrace.From the apple that dropped on Isaac Newton’s head to the orchards of nurseryrhymes……..this fruit has always been a part of Britain.I want our children to grow up enjoying the taste of British apples as well as… Cornish sardines, Norfolk turkey, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Wensleydalecheese, Herefordshire pears……. and….of course… black pudding.Under a Conservative majority government, I want Britain to lead the world in food,farming and the environment.In a fortnight I will be in Paris at the world’s largest food fair…….bigging up British products.In December, I’ll be in Beijing negotiating new markets for pork.I am determined that our farmers and producers will have access to more marketsboth at home and abroad……..generating jobs and security for millions.I am determined to press ahead restoring habitats,….cleaning rivers….and improving the quality of our atmosphere…..….so that future generations can breathe clean air and enjoy the countryside.I am determined that our flood defences will be always be strong enough to protectus against the ravages of a changing climate. And I will not rest until the British apple is at the very top of the tree.
In a recent article in “World Transport Policy and Practice”, 4 authors (Harry William Vallack, Gary Haq, John Whitelegg and Howard Cambridge) write on the prospects of UK transport being zero carbon by 2050 – or how far it will fall short of this target. Compared to the carbon emissions target that the Committee on Climate Change recommends, of 37.5 MtCO2 per year, by 2050, the paper estimates UK aviation carbon emissions as considerably higher, unless a range of measures are taken to ensure they do not grow. In their “Maximum Impact (MI) scenario, in which UK aviation emissions might possibly be prevented from rising, some 27% of the cut would need to be from fiscal measures (ie. tax and pricing); some 14% of the cut could come from aircraft technology (with perhaps a small amount of biofuel); 13% cut in the CO2 emissions might be from better air traffic control; and 10% could come from constrained demand (ie. not building runways on a predict-and-provide basis). Even with all the Maximum Impact measures, UK aviation emissions could only – at the most optimistic – be reduced by 56% of their “business as usual” level, by 2050. UK surface transport has to be zero carbon, to enable growth in aviation and shipping.
Harry William Vallack, Gary Haq, John Whitelegg and Howard Cambridge
Paper in “Eco-Logica” World Transport Policy and Practice
Part of table copied below ( p. 37):
Some extracts from the paper:
….”Maximum Impact (MI) Scenario
The MI Scenario envisions a radically different Britain by 2050, where the UK transport sector emits close to zero CO2. A wide range of measures known to reduce CO2 emissions are grouped into in four categories (spatial planning, fiscal, behavioural and technology) and the impacts of each assessed separately in order to allow their relative efficacy to be assessed.”
“Aviation emissions under the MI (Maximum Impact) scenario are only reduced by 56% cent when compared with the 2050 BAU (business as usual) emissions. Fiscal measures achieve a 27% reduction in emissions while improvements in aircraft technology and management reduce emissions by 13-14%.
Shipping emissions are only reduced by 49 per cent under the MI Scenario compared with the 2050 BAU emissions. New technology alone achieves emission reductions of 30 per cent while speed/voyage optimisation by itself achieves a 23 per cent reduction in emissions. However, emissions in the MI Scenario are still almost 60 per cent higher than those in the baseline year of 2005. This is due to the overall growth in shipping expected during the next forty years.
Although road and rail transport could both achieve the zero CO2 emission target by 2050, emissions from aviation and shipping are more problematic with only a 49% reduction achieved for shipping and a 56% reduction for aviation compared with the 2050 BAU emissions.
Thus, under the 2050 MI Scenario, the net result for the UK transport sector as a whole is a 76 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions (compared with the 2050 BAU scenario); well short of the zero carbon vision. To improve the CO2 emissions reduction for UK transport as a whole, including those parts of international aviation and shipping for which the UK is responsible, would require much more radical interventions or technological innovations for these two sectors than envisaged here.”
Transport is an important source of CO2 emissions in the UK showing relatively high growth rates that are inconsistent with the need to reduce UK’s CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. As an aid to the policy-making process, visioning and backcasting can together provide a useful means of characterising a preferred future and then exploring the impact of implementing a range of measures that might deliver that future. This process is a departure from traditional transport planning which has tended to focus on forecasting and modelling what might happen and then seeking to meet forecasts of increased demand for mobility with additional infrastructure e.g. airport terminals, lane widening on motorways, bypasses and high-speed rail.”
“In this paper, the vision and backcasting analysis shows that the potential to reduce transport CO2 emissions is much larger than has hitherto been recognised. A largely decarbonised transport system can still deliver the transport needs of passengers and freight. It also shows that decarbonisation is highly dependent on the integrated and synergistic effects of adopting behavioural, spatial, fiscal and technological interventions simultaneously to support the changes to the transport system.”
Acknowledgements: The research in this paper has been made possible by a grant from the Greenpeace Environmental Trust.
“Meanwhile, CO2 emissions from UK aviation are set to continue rising, the DfT forecasting approximately 50% increase on 2010 levels by 2040. (DfT, 2011).”
Under their ‘central case’ scenario, the DfT assume that airport capacity is not constrained and forecast that air travel demand at Uk airports will row strongly from 241 million passengers per annum (mppa) in 2007 to 465 in 2030 (within the range 415 – 500 mppa). This will result in an increase in total UK aviation CO2 emissions from 37.5Mt CO2 in 2005 to 58.4 MtCO2 (range 51.8 – 61.6) Mt CO2 in 2030. After 2030 the growth in aviation emissions is projected to slow down due to market maturity, limits to improvements in aircraft efficiency, and capacity constraints slowing demand growth. By 2050 aviation emissions are projected to have stablilied at 59.9 (range 53.0 – 65.0) MtCO2.”
“Behavioural: Aviation growth will continue, albeit at an increasinlgy slower rate, and a general “greening” of attitudes and behavour will gradually smooth out growth rates in the latter half of the projection. (And more about more rail travel, more video conferencing, and then cultural change in organisations towards travel through de-incentivising foreign travel and a stronger sense of corporate social responsibility.”
Professor John Whitelegg is visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute.
The AOA have produced a report, the purpose of which is to persuade government etc that aviation is a responsible industry and a new runway should be allowed for the south east. They make various claims, which need to be analysed with some care. Realising that aircraft noise, and the industry’s CO2 emissions are key to any decision to allow a new runway, they say airports are reducing the CO2 emissions of their own operations. Airports tend to be huge structures, inherently poorly designed for optimum energy use. However, AOA says that the largest 18 airports have cut their CO2 by “almost 3% in two years” 2010 – 2012 while their number of passengers rose by about 5.4%. Taking into account the 8 airports for which there is data of aircraft emissions below 2,000 feet, the AOA say the CO2 emissions were down 1.9% with a 2.4% rise in flights. This all sounds great, but completely ignores the issue of the carbon emitted by the flights themselves – which is a far larger amount. Aviation carbon emissions – and controls on them – are based on emissions from aircraft, not emissions from airports. So the AOA’s efforts, though welcome, are somewhat peripheral to the main issue. Airport carbon savings should not be a justification for building a new runway, enabling a large number of extra annual aircraft kilometres.
The Airport Operators Association says:
“AIRPORTS ARE REDUCING THEIR CARBON FOOTPRINT AND MANAGING NOISE, DESPITE 10M INCREASE IN PASSENGER NUMBERS. GOVERNMENT NOW URGED TO DELIVER POLICY SUPPORT”
10.9.2014 (AOA press release)
UK airports are growing whilst reducing carbon and managing noise, according to a report launched in Parliament today by the Airport Operators Association (AOA). The reportSustainable Airports: Improving the environmental impact of the UK’s global gateways (see http://www.aoa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/AOA-Sustainable-Airports-Report.pdf),responds to political and public calls to demonstrate that a growing airport sector can be delivered sustainably.
On carbon emissions, the report shows that the carbon footprint of the UK’s 18 largest airports (by passenger numbers) – which represent 95% of air passengers – reduced by almost 3% in just two years, despite passenger numbers increasing by more than 5% and air traffic by almost 2% during the same period. [Note: The AOA are talking about the carbon emissions of airports themselves, and not of the flights using those airports].
On noise near airports, the report concludes that – despite historically reducing noise contours around airports, and airports managing noise perception by significantly investing in enhanced local community engagement – the population size within noise contours is beyond the control of airports due to a lack of consistency between national aviation policy and planning policy. In the last three years, over 5,700 homes have been given planning permission or have started or completed construction in areas around airports where the Government expects some people will experience annoyance at aircraft noise. [Note: For more on this, see http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=22979 ]
In the report, the AOA calls on Government for policy support in two main ways:
On carbon, Government needs to work with the aviation sector to incentivise the take-up of sustainable aviation fuels, including establishing a clear policy framework to stimulate production and investment in this new technology. [Note: What they want is government subsidy for biofuels etc for the aviation industry]. Politicians from all parties should also support a global Emissions Trading Scheme; and
On noise, the Government needs to give local authorities national policy guidance, to help them build homes in areas that are compatible with airports and other infrastructure, but which do not cut across national aviation policy. Government policy asks airports to limit and reduce the number of people inside noise contours – it should not enable developers to introduce thousands of new households into those contours.
Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, said:
“This report is an important contribution to the debate around whether our sector can successfully expand without increasing its carbon and noise impacts. It demonstrates that our country’s airports, which are so crucial to the economic well-being of the UK, can grow sustainably, even more so if given proper policy support.
“The report shows that airports are keeping to their side of the bargain, investing and innovating to reduce their carbon footprints, and working through industry coalitions to reduce noise. [Note: This is questionable; while airports may be able to make some carbon savings by greater efficiency, new planes will be slightly more fuel efficient per passenger, and flight routing etc can be made slightly more fuel efficient, these gains would be more than outweighed by the rate of growth the industry wants to achieve in coming years. See link and link ].
“We now need to see a partnership approach with Government to take sustainable airport development to the next level. We urge Ministers to step up to the plate and do their bit to deliver supportive policy on issues such as supporting sustainable aviation fuels, promoting a global carbon emissions trading scheme, and providing consistent national and local planning policy which helps airports limit and reduce the number of families living inside noise contours, thereby reducing the number of people experiencing noise annoyance from aviation.”
There has been an almost 3% reduction in carbon emissions produced by airports, whilst passenger numbers increased by more than 5% and air traffic by almost 2% in the same time. The AOA report,Sustainable Airports: Improving the environmental impact of the UK’s global gatewaysfinds that of the 18 airports analysed, 13 reduced their carbon emissions, three increased their carbon emissions and two remained unchanged. From an analysis of the airports, which between them account for over 95% of passengers using UK airports, the key findings are:
18 biggest airports in the UK
Total annual CO2 (tonnes)
Air traffic movements
Some airports were able to share 2013 carbon emissions data. The AOA only included those that used the same calculation methods for their 2010 emissions, so that the two data points are comparable. Fourteen of the 18 airports shared comparable data for 2013. The findings show that between 2010 and 2013, airports reduced carbon emissions by 4.35%. At the same time passenger numbers at these airports increased by almost 7 million, and there was a 2% increase in air traffic movements:
14 airports for which 2013 figures are available
Total annual CO2 (tonnes)
Air traffic movements
Source of carbon emissions at airports:
Airports do not own or operate aircraft, meaning that they are not in direct control of the biggest contributor to aviation’s carbon emissions: the fuel used for flights. Airport carbon emissions focus on the energy used to run their buildings and business operations for passengers. However, eight of the 18 airports assessed by the AOA do include measurements of the carbon emissions from flights in the landing and take-off cycle at the airport. So for these eight airports the analysis includes aircraft movements and the carbon emissions they generate. This separate analysis shows a more specific reflection of the aviation sector’s carbon emissions, which reduced by 2% over the same period, whilst at the same time air traffic at these airports increased by 2%. In other words, even these airports decreased their carbon emissions whilst increasing the number of flights. Key data:
The 8 airports that include carbon emissions of flights in the landing and take-off cycle at the airport
Total annual CO2 (tonnes)
Air traffic movements
How carbon emission reductions are being made: Airports are reducing their carbon footprint in a number of ways, including:
Improving surface access: Improved public transport links and more efficient use of road and rail networks, helping to reduce airport related congestion and emissions.
Energy efficient buildings and business practice: Airports are setting up carbon saving initiatives inside their buildings and through their infrastructure. These include energy saving initiatives and improved insulation.
Providing cleaner on-site energy to aircraft: Aircraft are supplied with power whilst they are grounded at an airport. Airports are substituting the source and type of power they supply, to provide cleaner energy with lower carbon emissions.
5,700+ new houses have been either built or commenced near to airports over the last three years. The report finds that developers are being allowed to build new homes and other noise-sensitive buildings closer to airports. This means that factors outside of airports’ control are preventing them from meeting the policy objective set in the Government’s 2013 Aviation Policy Framework “to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.”
The key findings of the report are:
In the last three years 5,761 homes have been given planning permission or have started or completed construction in the noise contours of the UK’s 18 biggest airports (the research covers the period starting 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2014) – these are the areas where the Government expects some people will experience annoyance from aircraft noise.
There is no evidence that these homes have adequate noise insulation, or that people moving in to them will be told by the developer or estate agent that they are in an airport’s noise contour.
In 2010 it was found that airports and their partners in the aviation sector had successfully reduced the area in which there are higher levels of aircraft noise by 45% since 1998 (the area of the the 57dB LAeq 16 hour contours of 6 major airports shrunk from 409.6 km2 in 1998 to 225.6 km2, with the 57dB LAeq 16 hour contour being the area defined by the Government as the average level of daytime aircraft noise marking the approximate onset of significant community annoyance). Today the AOA’s report finds that airports are working closely with the populations remaining within the noise contours through regular community engagement, but they cannot limit or reduce the population within noise contours when national planning policy enables new development in those areas.
The AOA’s recommendations:
a) Delivering sustainable growth
Airports are already meeting policy objectives to ensure their sustainability; therefore, in light of airports’ proven commitment, all political parties should support the growth of airports as essential national economic and transport infrastructure. This includes committing to acting on both the 2013 Aviation Policy Framework (APF) and the findings of the Airports Commission, when it reports in 2015.
b) Reducing carbon emissions
Airports are reducing their carbon emissions, but these emissions are only a small proportion of those created by the UK’s aviation sector. To help the aviation sector achieve greater carbon reductions, the Department for Transport (DfT) should help make two important initiatives a reality: the development of sustainable aviation fuels and a global Emissions Trading Scheme. The DfT should:
Provide an incentive framework to stimulate investment, research and development, and commercialisation for sustainable aviation fuels. The fuels should be eligible for incentives in the same way that credits are awarded to qualifying road transport fuels under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation
Press for agreement on and support implementation of a global carbon-trading solution encompassing all of aviation and ensuring a level playing field for all participants
Airports that have not already done so should commit to a scheme to reduce as well as monitor their carbon emissions. One option available to them would be the ‘ACI Carbon Accreditation Stage 2: Reduction’.
c) Reducing noise
The location of noise sensitive developments like housing needs to work alongside airports and other existing infrastructure. The Department for Communities and Local Government should help airports to further manage noise by reversing the policy change to national planning guidance, so that in future Local Plans include the noise metrics in the APF. By reversing this policy change, developers and local authorities would rightly have to meet the same policy expectations as the aviation sector by managing the specific location and noise insulation of new homes.
If a new home or other noise sensitive building is to be built within the Government’s defined noise contour (the 57dB LAeq 16 hour contour), then the housing developer should provide adequate sound insulation and make people aware of aircraft noise before they buy or rent a property.
The Liberal Democrats have launched their Pre-Manifesto 2014, and it contains an emphatic statement against any new runway at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted – and no estuary airport. Their policy: “Ensure our airport infrastructure meets the needs of a modern and open economy, without allowing emissions from aviation to undermine our goal of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050. We will carefully consider the conclusions of the Davies Review into runway capacity and develop a strategic airports policy for the whole of the UK in the light of those recommendations and advice from the Committee on Climate Change. We remain opposed to any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and any new airport in the Thames Estuary, because of local issues of air and noise pollution. We will ensure no net increase in runways across the UK as a whole by prohibiting the opening of any new runways unless others are closed elsewhere.” It is thought that this position will not be popular with big business, which wants expanded airport, and ever increasing aviation – with little consideration for the climate impacts.
This is the text, relating to runways, from the Lib Dem Pre-Manifesto 2014:
“Ensure our airport infrastructure meets the needs of a modern and open economy, without allowing emissions from aviation to undermine our goal of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050. We will carefully consider the conclusions of the Davies Review into runway capacity and develop a strategic airports policy for the whole of the UK in the light of those recommendations and advice from the Committee on Climate Change. We remain opposed to any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and any new airport in the Thames Estuary, because of local issues of air and noise pollution. We will ensure no net increase in runways across the UK as a whole by prohibiting the opening of any new runways unless others are closed elsewhere.”
Nick Clegg rules out London air expansion plans
Kate McCann (City AM)
9th September 2014
LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg has ruled out airport expansion in London if his party is elected in 2015.
Launching the party’s draft manifesto yesterday, Clegg vowed to oppose any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick, as well as a new airport in the Thames Estuary because of air and noise pollution. The party is also against any net increase in the number of runways across the UK. The plans will cause concern among business leaders, who have been calling for airport expansion in London for years. On Monday, the Confederation of British Industry called the lack of capacity a “ticking time bomb”.
“We’ve learnt our lesson from tuition fees – and we’ve learnt it the hard way. There will be no repeat of that mistake,” the Lib Dem leader promised, adding that 75 per cent of his party’s previous manifesto pledges were successfully negotiated into the coalition agreement.
The manifesto includes around 300 pledges, some more controversial than others. Plans to move towards the legalisation of some drugs for personal use is a key proposal, as well as a plan to build 300,000 new homes a year and 10 new garden cities.
This manifesto commitment means, in effect, the LibDems would veto the expansion of any airport – whether Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted – during the next parliament if the Lib Dems formed part of another coalition government.
The Lib Dems have arrived at their position after a lengthy debate, on the basis of the impact of aviation on climate change and the effect of Heathrow’s expansion on voters in southwest London. The party has several seats in the area including Twickenham and Kingston & Surbiton and has previously held Richmond.
Before the 2010 election Nick Clegg warned: “A 3rd runway at Heathrow would be a disaster for the local area as well as a disaster for the whole country.”
There is thought to be some opposition to the no-runways position, within the party, from MPs who believe (rightly or wrongly) that planes will become “cleaner and quieter”. The reality is that planes will become very slightly more fuel efficient, and very slightly less noisy, but not enough to make much difference, and these improvements will be cancelled out by growth in air traffic.
Many LibDems are stuck between a desire to be environmentally responsible, and the ever-present push for economic growth, regardless of its consequences. One said: “I believe Lib Dem’s ambitions for a greener future must also fit with our vision for a stronger economy and a fairer society – and that means looking for opportunities for growth across the whole country. …. We don’t yet know how technology will improve air travel: carbon emissions may fall faster or slower than currently predicted, and our policy response must be flexible to accommodate the evidence as it emerges. . . There is a real chance we risk prejudicing decades of growth by nailing down excessively restrictive plans for airport growth now.”
The Lib Dems said at the time of the interim report from the Airports Commission in December 2013 that they were “not opposed in principle” to new runways in the south east.
But they are now back to opposing runways, in the so-called “pre-manifesto.”
Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt defies party over runway extensions
She is to take on activists who want future governments to allow “no net growth” in runways, in a debate at the party’s conference in October.
The runway ban is to be included in the party’s pre-manifesto, launched by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
This is an early draft of the General Election manifesto for next year’s poll.
It is due to be debated at the conference, to be held in Glasgow, where policy proposals will be put to a vote.
Ms Burt, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, is to propose an amendment to strike out the ban and highlight the importance of airports outside London for regional jobs and growth.
However, she is likely to face opposition from activists who argue that preventing new runways will protect the environment.
Writing for the Birmingham Post, Ms Burt said the Lib Dems’ ambitions for a greener future “must also fit with our vision for a stronger economy and a fairer society”.
“It would be short-sighted of us to rule out new routes for airlines offering a chance to explore new markets and encourage investment,” she added.
“There is a real chance we risk prejudicing decades of growth by nailing down excessively restrictive plans for airport growth now.”
Birmingham Airport last year published plans to build a second runway, allowing it to expand into a truly global airport capable of dealing with 70 million passengers each year – as many as Heathrow handles now.
The proposals were submitted to the Airports Commission addressing a shortage of capacity in the UK.
The commission last year decided not to shortlist proposals for expanding Birmingham but said there was likely to be a case for considering the airport as a potential option for expansion by 2050.
Under the plans submitted to the commission, the airport would also have an additional terminal and see up to 500,000 take-offs and landings annually.
The plan has a heavyweight coalition behind it, with business leaders, local councils and MPs all firmly on board including MP Mark Garnier (Con Wyre Forest), Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group.
An Aviation Commission set up by the Government is considering whether to allow a new runway at Heathrow or at Gatwick Airport.
Birmingham Airport has urged the commission to give a greater role to airports in other parts of the country.
In a blog, the Carbon Brief has a look at the climate and environmental impacts of the expansion plans by London’s airports. Leaving aside the noise and other impacts, and looking here just at carbon, it is clear that there is an issue. While UK aviation makes up some 6% of just CO2 emissions, under the current system by which aviation is not required to cut its emissions by 2050, UK aviation will then make up about 25% of UK carbon emitted. The UK is required to cut its overall carbon emissions by 80% of their 1990 level, by 2050. Aviation just needs to keep its emissions to 37.5 megatonnes – which was about the level in 2005. As long as the rest of the economy decarbonises very intensively, aviation could keep its very generous allocation. But that means not going above 37.5 Mt. A report in July, by AEF, showed that it would be likely that an additional new runway would contribute some 8.2Mt of CO2 per year, making meeting the 37.5 Mt target “effectively impossible”. It would require air travel at regional airports to be reduced, which apart from contradicting regional development policies would be”politically very difficult to implement and have significant economic consequences.”
Blog by The Carbon Brief
Assessing the climate and environment impact of London’s airport plans
This morning the Airport Commission dismissed Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary. With remaining options for expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick what are the potential climate and environmental impacts of each?
The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, recommended adding a second runway to south east England by 2030, with the possibility of another by 2050.
In December 2013, the Commission shortlisted three options for the first additional runway in its Interim Report – a second runway at Gatwick, a third runway at Heathrow or an extension to the second runway at Heathrow (so it operates like two).
Any expansion of airport capacity will lead to more flights and more passengers, and increase carbon emissions from aviation.
At the moment aviation makes up around 5% of the UK’s emissions – around 33.3 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon a year in 2011. [More like 6.5% in reality]. Under the Climate Change Act, the UK must reduce its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels. That would mean we emitted no more than 160 Mt of carbon per year in 2050.
The Committee on Climate Change suggests that to stay under this limit, carbon emissions from flights will need to be no more than 37.5Mt per year. At that level aviation would use up just under a quarter of the UK’s carbon budget in 2050.
So can airports expand and stay within this level?
Research from the think tank Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) suggests not. Their analysis found that a new runway – wherever it is situated – would contribute an additional 8.2 Mt of carbon emissions, making meeting the 37.5 Mt target “effectively impossible”. [AEF report “The Implications of South East Expansion for Regional Airports” is available for download here.]
The study, funded by the WWF, developed future scenarios of emissions based on aviation forecasts from the Department for Transport. It found that in order to build a new runway and still meet the 37.5 Mt target, air travel at regional airports would need to be reduced. This, the study concluded, would be “politically very difficult to implement and have significant economic consequences.”
Other environmental impacts
Heathrow has been a victim of its own success. An extra runway would make this huge airport even bigger, exacerbating local environmental challenges. The air quality around Heathrow, for example, is consistently worse than the standards required by the EU. Heathrow’s most recent proposal suggests more frequent rail links and a congestion charge to discourage passengers from using their cars.
Noise is also a significant issue. A study commissioned by the Mayor of London found that a third runway at Heathrow would increase the number of people affected by aircraft noise by over 300,000 – to over a million.
Solutions such as steeper flight paths, no-flight periods and paying for insulation are proposed to manage the problem. Failing that, the airport says it will provide compensation to those affected.
Change in patterns of air noise with additional runways at Heathrow. Heathrow Airport July 2013
Heathrow is also on Greenbelt land, but the 2003 government White Paper on Aviation had already decided that: “the benefits [of expansion] would outweigh the environmental impact as long as the effects were properly controlled.”
Gatwick would face many of the same issues as Heathrow, albeit to a lesser degree as it is a smaller airport. But it’s also located in a more rural area. A study commissioned by West Sussex County Council found that a new runway would require 30,000 to 45,000 new homes to be built in the area. Gatwick’s largest nearby town is currently Crawley, with a population of around 40,000.
‘Boris Island’ is the most famous of the airport expansion proposals, with the Mayor putting forward plans for a hub airport to be built in either the inner or outer Thames estuary. Its drawbacks were well documented – not least a potential cost of £120 billion and the likely impacts on important habitats in the area.
But a hub airport in the inner estuary did have some appeal to the Airport Commission, particularly for the potential to “reduce aviation noise impacts in the South East of England.”
Other options – such as expansion of Stansted or Birmingham airport – were also discounted in the Commission’s Interim Report, primarily because those airports will not be operating at capacity for many years.
With the Commission expected to make its final decision next summer, this leaves three options in two locations.
But with vocal advocates and opposition for each, it appears for the moment that the effect any new runway would have on the UK’s carbon targets has been lost amongst the noise.
The key findings of the AEF (Aviation Environment Federation) report are:
Building a new runway in the South East would in practice mean that airport capacity elsewhere would need to be reduced in order for UK aviation to keep within carbon limits required by the Climate Change Act. This could involve closure of a number of regional airports.
Government policy, however, supports the growth of regional airports, and official forecasts anticipate that they will grow by over 200% between now and 2050. Many airports in fact consider Government figures to be conservative. With politicians from all main parties having made commitments to supporting regional economic growth, capping or reducing aviation activity outside the South East would therefore require very significant hurdles to be overcome.
By contrast, with full utilisation of current airport capacity, it would be challenging but
achievable to keep aviation emissions to a level compatible with the Climate Change Act.
The Summary of the AEF report states:
Capping capacity may not at first glance appear the ideal solution to the aviation emissions
challenges. Indeed the fact that emissions are forecast to exceed the 2050 target even without increasing runway capacity demonstrates that other measures – such as MBMs, taxes, carbon efficiency incentives, or a moratorium on any new planning permissions or terminal expansions – would need to be implemented even if no new runways were built in order to bring emissions down to the required level.
But as we argued in our 2011 analysis for WWF, we believe that while challenging, the 37.5 Mt tonne target is – with a committed focus on making best use of existing airport capacity – achievable. With a new runway, by contrast, it would be effectively impossible.
Our airport capacity scenarios illustrate how difficult it would be to constrain demand to a target compatible level if a new runway were to be built. The fact that the 37.5 Mt target would be breached even if regional airports were prevented from increasing their passenger throughput from today’s levels (for example using powers available to the Secretary of State under the Civil Aviation Act) suggests that achieving the climate target while building a new South East runway would require an overall reduction in activity at regional airports.
Not only would this be politically very difficult to implement and have significant economic consequences, it would also run directly counter to the Government’s support for regional airport growth set out in the 2013 Aviation Policy
The Guardian, in an editorial, says Boris is insisting his estuary airport scheme is “not dead” at all, because in the end it will not be for the Airports Commission to decide, but the next government. In which, of course, he intends to play a major part . The Guardian remembers that the main issue is the deeper environmental damage done by the CO2 belched out by jet engines, which regrettably seems to have been dropped from the political equation. While the UK should be discussing the sort of economic growth we want, instead policy appears to boil down to “planning for rising demand” so anyone who wants to fly can. And cheaply. Allowing airport expansion in the south east will require restrictions on the growth of northern airports, which does not fit with regional policy, or by making reductions of unrealistic depth in other economic sectors. And of course, most air travel is holidaying. “The economics do not dictate that fast projected growth in air travel must be taken as a given: it ought to be possible to manage demand instead. …. there is no easy way to [manage demand] without keeping a lid on capacity. Instead, however, Westminster indulges passengers and airlines with the old lie: the sky’s the limit.”
Mr Johnson’s estuary proposal, as it is never described, has loomed large in the aviation debate, despite its abject lack of seriousness. London’s mayor put forward an entirely new airport on the Isle of Grain, which would cost five to 10 times as much as expanding Heathrow. The technocratic Airports Commission were bound to reject it, although they chickened out of quite saying so to Boris Johnson last year, agreeing to give his pet project one final look, even as they dropped it from the shortlist. Yesterday, adding new arguments about birdlife and the sheer dislocation of moving the capital’s main airport 70 miles to their original cost concerns, they finally gave the formal thumbs down.
Mr Johnson was having none of it – insisting his scheme was “not dead” at all, because in the end it will not be for Sir Howard Davies and his commissioners to decide, but instead for the next government. As he plots his move from City Hall over to the Uxbridge parliamentary constituency, close to Heathrow, if the dismal environmental legacy of his mayoralty isn’t weighing on him, deep resentment about air traffic noise across the west and south-west of the metropolis assuredly is. A Conservative party that absorbed painful London losses in May will not recover in the capital without rebuilding in these areas of historic strength. Attention could yet turn away from the two proposals for a bigger Heathrow, and towards expanding Gatwick in true-blue Sussex. The stage is set for dull debates about “hub economics” and the feasibility of one city hosting two different sites at which the world disembarks, buys some lunch and a magazine, then clambers on to another plane.
The question of where is drowning out the question of whether bigger London airports are desirable. Amid the sound and fury over noise, the deeper environmental damage done by the carbon belched out by jet engines has dropped out of the equation. Just a few years ago, at the depth of the Great Recession, Ed Miliband tried (and for the most part failed) to resist Heathrow expansion while inside the Labour government, and in opposition David Cameron made green play of making a stand against. Today a recovering economy ought to permit more discussion about the sort of growth we want, but policy appears to boil down to “planning for rising demand”.
The argument may have fallen silent, and yet the implications of unresting climate science grow ever closer. As the melting of the Greenland ice sheet picks up pace, those solemn promises of an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 could be rendered entirely hollow by aviation. Yes, increased efficiency may do some good, as may biofuels. It is true, too, that some of the immediate additional climate-changing costs of flying could be easier to reverse than the fundamental damage done by the carbon, which makes it tricky to be precise about the numbers. But then not much precision is required, since the only carbon price that bites on air tickets at all comes from the emissions trading system. It bites only on European flights, and some experts say it currently leaves carbon 100 times cheaper than it will eventually need to be.
Without gripping aviation in the south-east, Britain could probably only hit its green ambitions by restricting northern airports, which hardly fits with regional policy, or by making reductions of unrealistic depth in other sectors. The biggest chunk of air travel is holidaying, where the net effect is always to deepen the current account deficit with sunnier parts of the world. In the Skype age, the proportion of flyers on business trips has been in decline, and with high-speed rail in prospect, internal flights could become entirely superfluous.
The economics do not dictate that fast projected growth in air travel must be taken as a given: it ought to be possible to manage demand instead. But given Europe’s broken carbon market, there is no easy way to do that without keeping a lid on capacity. Instead, however, Westminster indulges passengers and airlines with the old lie: the sky’s the limit.
There are many comments below the article, many sensible:
Below is one comment:
“I am afraid this is no longer the choice. We can keep flying, which I agree we very much want to do, and help tip climate change into a completely uncontrollable state (if we have not already) or we can come to the realities presented by physics and economics that say that aircraft that are green enough to really make a difference are no where near being developed and they certainly are not even on the horizon as far as broad acceptance and use. This pipe-dream technological optimism that you and others put forward is dangerous in that keeps us from really taking a good look at the sustainability of the now globally dominant economic/political model.
“Jet flight is one of the surest indicators that global capitalism is completely unsustainable. The fact that this insanely energy/carbon intensive mode of travel is so necessary to perpetuate this economic model should cause everyone to pause and contemplate if jet flight (along with other behaviorus) is really worth the kind of world run-away climate change will leaver us with.”