Climate Change News

Below are news items on climate change – many with relevance to aviation

ICAO’s environment committee comes up with some standards for new aircraft, years ahead

The meeting of the ICAO "Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) in Montreal has ended. The committee's purpose is to try to reduce and limit the environmental damage done by the aviation industry (noise, air pollution, carbon emissions).  It has not been very successful to date. This meeting has agreed on an Aircraft Engine Standard: "A new stringency level that would limit the emissions of non-volatile Particulate Matter (nvPM) from aircraft engines was agreed. The ICAO standard is expected to drive technologies to address non-volatile particulate matter, which in the long run will minimise their potential environmental and health impacts." ie. for planes yet to be built, with any impacts decades ahead. At least admitting the problem of PM particles produced by planes.  On noise ICAO said: "The meeting also delivered ...improvements of aircraft noise up to 15.5 dB below Chapter 14 limits for single-aisle aircraft by 2027, NOx emission by 54 per cent relative to the latest ICAO NOx SARPs and fuel efficiency up to 1.3% per annum can be expected for the new aircraft entering into production." Again, for new planes, with no real impact for decades. On CORSIA they said CAEP had agreement (not spelled out) on how to assess life-cycle CO2 emissions reductions for biofuels or other lower carbon fuels.  ie. not a lot.

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Letter from Lord Deben, Chairman of the CCC – to Grayling on “Aviation 2050” the DfT’s aviation strategy green paper

In a letter to Chris Grayling, dated 12th February, Lord Deben provides the Committee on Climate Change's views on the current aviation strategy green paper consultation, Aviation 2050 – The future of UK aviation.  [the aviation green paper]. He says "You will be aware that my Committee has been asked by Ministers to offer advice on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s statutory framework, including when ‘net-zero’ emissions can be achieved. A stronger UK target would require more effort from all sectors, including aviation. We intend to provide an updated view on the appropriate long-term ambition for aviation emissions within our advice on the UK’s long-term targets. We will publish our report in spring. Following that, we will write to you directly to set out the implications for the Aviation Strategy."  It also says: "The final white paper should further clarify that this will be met on the basis of actual emissions, rather than by relying on international offset credits."  And "Achieving aviation emissions at or below 2005 levels in 2050 will require contributions from all parts of the aviation sector,... It will also require steps to limit growth in demand. In the absence of a true zero-carbon plane, demand cannot continue to grow unfettered over the long-term."  Read the whole letter. 

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Dutch Sec of State for Finance says an EU airline tax needed to limit low-cost flights

The Dutch Secretary of State for Finance, Menno Snel, has said the EU needs an airline tax to disincentivise consumers from using low-budget airlines for frequent travel. Mr Snel is to make his pitch for an EU-wide tax at a meeting of European finance ministers, as a way to curb aviation CO2 emissions. He said:  “We need to come up with some ideas. It’s not sustainable that we fly for a weekend with some friends all around Europe, when we could do it with the train.” Using the example of a €19 return ticket from Amsterdam to Berlin, he said: “[People] understand it’s not a fair price right now.”  Mr Snel said the tax could complement emissions reduction programs like the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) and the UN's CORSIA.  He said just having a carbon price does not mean there cannot ALSO be taxes on flights. Aviation is an under-taxed sector, paying no fuel duty and no VAT.  He understands that CORSIA itself is not sufficient to even dent aviation carbon emissions, and more taxes on flights are needed - on a global scale.  Mr Snell will suggest an EU-wide minimum ticket tax, above which individual countries could charge more. EU tax initiatives require unanimity to be adopted.

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Critics attack secrecy at UN’s ICAO CAEP committee, tasked with cutting global airline CO2 emissions

A UN ICAO committee, Committee on Aviation and Environmental Protection (CAEP), with the job of cutting global aircraft carbon emissions (an issue of global concern) is meeting secretly, for discussions dominated by airline industry observers. The committee always meets behind closed doors; the press and other observers are not allowed in (unlike other UN committees).  The committee's agenda and discussion documents are not released to the public or the international press. Anyone who leaks documents being discussed faces “unlimited liability for confidentiality breaches”, according to ICAO rules.  The only non-governmental body not linked to the airline industry allowed into the meeting is the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), made up of a small group of international environmental NGOs. Transparency International says “Agencies which set common global standards for large, international industries have to be transparent in order to prevent capture by corporate interests ... "  A key concern is that the committee wants to certify biofuels, that are definitely NOT environmentally sustainable, as low carbon. And also fossil oil, produced using solar energy - also NOT a low carbon fuel. The committee needs to be open to public scrutiny.

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Plan B Earth’s skeleton argument against the DfT on how the Airports NPS (Grayling …) failed on climate

Plan B Earth is making one of the 5 legal challenges against the government, due to their decision to support the building of a 3rd runway at Heathrow, through the "Airports National Planning Statement" (ANPS). They have filed their skeleton argument, which is the basis of their submissions at the trial. Plan B says: "In essence, it's a simple argument. Chris Grayling considered the Paris Agreement "irrelevant" to his decision. He was wrong."  Part of the skeleton argument states: "(1). At the heart of all three grounds of Plan B’s claim, lies a common concern: the Secretary of State’s failure to assess the ANPS against the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (“the Paris Agreement”) and specifically the Paris Agreement temperature limit (“Paris Temperature Limit”), which, according to the best available science, demarcates the boundary between humanity and an intolerable risk of disaster: disaster for the environment; for the economy; and for international security.  (2.) Initially the Secretary of State purported to have taken the Paris Agreement into account. His own witnesses, however, undermined that claim. Once Plan B drew that to his attention, the Secretary of State modified his position: when he said that he had considered the Paris Agreement, he meant only that he had considered it to be irrelevant."  Read the full skeleton.

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ICAO’s CORSIA low standards on biofuels risk undercutting EU’s new renewables rules

The UN's ICAO is a secretive organisation, that has been woefully ineffective in limiting the CO2 emissions of global aviation. There are considerable concerns that it will try to get bad biofuels certified as low carbon, in order to whitewash the sector's emissions in future. The global deal, CORSIA, making the first tentative steps towards restricting aviation CO2 at all is just starting. There is, elsewhere, growing understanding that biofuels are generally not the way forward, and their real lifecycle carbon emissions are far higher than their proponents make out. ICAO has now agree 2 criteria (out of 12 possible) for aviation biofuels. These are that there should have been no deforestation after 2009; and there should be at least a saving of 10% of green house gas emissions, (including emissions from indirect land-use change or ILUC) compared to fossil jet kerosene. ICAO's environment committee will develop rules for what biofuels can be credited – ie. how much of an emissions reduction each biofuel delivers.  The effect can only be accurately accounted for using models. There is a serious danger they will try and include palm oil. And countries like Saudi Arabia are trying to get "lower carbon" fossil fuels included, if their production can be 10% more carbon efficient.  So aviation will continue to emit vast amounts of carbon for decades....

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European aviation report “in numbers” highlights growing noise and carbon problems which will continue

A report about aviation in the EU has been produced as a joint publication by EuroControl, the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).  Called the second European Aviation Environmental Report(EAER), it shows the growing impacts of the industry in recent years, saying:  "the contribution of aviation activities to climate change, noise and air quality impacts is increasing, thereby affecting the health and quality of life of European citizens”. Comparing 2005 and 2014 with 2017, on noise,  in 2017 more people were exposed to noise than in 2005. Measured across some of Europe’s busiest 47 airports, the number of people inside the 55dB Lden noise contours rose to 2.58 million in 2017.  The average noise energy per flight decreased by only 1% between 2014 and 2017 compared to a decrease of 14% between 2005 and 2017. On carbon emissions, though aircraft fuel efficiency improved 8% for commercial flights between 2014 and 2017. But the increase in flights meant that compare to 2014, gross CO2 emissions in 2017 rose by 10% to 163Mt CO2.  NOx, which has a net climate warming impact when emitted at altitude, increased by 12% to 839,000 tonnes. So there was a 3% rise in net European aviation CO2 emissions from 2014 to 2017.

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Experts say legal obstacles no barrier to introducing aviation fuel tax for flights in Europe

EU countries can end the decades-long exemption on taxing aviation fuel. Legal experts say it is possible to tax kerosene on flights between EU countries. This could either be done at EU level through a series of bilateral agreements or by agreement between individual countries. Transport & Environment (T&E) has found that the old argument that foreign carriers’ operating within the EU – de facto a small number of flights – can’t be taxed can be overcome by introducing a de minimis threshold below which fuel burn would not be taxed.  At present (and for decades past) airlines, unlike almost all other forms of transport, pay no fuel tax on flights within or from the EU – even though aviation causes 5% of global warming. They also pay no VAT.  Despite the aviation industry’s attempts to hide behind the 1944 Chicago Convention, when the agreement was made on not taxing aviation fuel, that is not what is preventing fuel taxation. In fact it is old bilateral ‘air service agreements’ that European governments signed up to years ago that include mutual fuel tax exemptions for non-EU airlines. It remains too hard to tax fuel for international, non-EU, flights.

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CORSIA and its failings explained – great piece from Carbon Brief

In a long, detailed and very informative article from Carbon Brief, Jocelyn Timperley explains the CORSIA scheme for aircraft carbon emissions, and its failings. While airlines are starting this year to measure and record their carbon emissions for the first time, it is not expected that the scheme will do anything much to limit aviation carbon.  "It can be expected to “modestly reduce” the net climate impact of international aviation up to 2035, according to the (ICCT). This is only if high-quality offsets are used and those offsets are not “double counted”, the think-tank adds....  Unless it is extended beyond 2035, Corsia will cover only 6% of projected CO2 emissions from all international aviation between 2015 and 2050, ICCT data indicates."  That assumes China will partake from the pilot phase. "Base emissions continue to grow under Corsia due to uncovered traffic..... The ICCT argues this means Corsia “does not obviate the need for an ICAO long-term climate goal”. Because of a range of issues, like biofuels, offsets, forestry etc : “It’s not just that Corsia is a weak measure – it’s that it’s an actively bad measure, that risks doing more harm than good.”

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Air travel CO2 emissions will have to be curbed; the Frequent Flier levy may be the best solution

An article in the Irish Times points to new research from the ICAO showing how CO2 emissions from aviation might increase 3 -7-fold over the next 30 years has been released.  Amusingly Richard Branson is advocating the elimination of industrial-scale meat production by “eliminating harmful subsidies and putting a price on externalities”. And that without an apparent hint of irony, in the subsidies (no VAT, no fuel duty) given to the aviation sector - which is a major beneficiary of comparable harmful subsidies and a producer of vast externalities of the sort he decries in the meat sector. The Irish Government is committed to spending at least €320 million on new runway at Dublin airport – another giant subsidy to the sector.  There is "No other discrete human activity is more intensely polluting than flying."  Eating less meat, or cutting it out entirely, is indeed a positive action to help reduce humanity's carbon emissions. But that is not a substitute for taking proper action to limit aviation carbon emissions.  The "Frequent Flyer" levy, which would progressively tax air travellers, with higher taxes the more they flew, would be a good way to penalise frequent flyers (who are currently pampered by airlines with upgrades and incentives.)

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