EASA report: aviation’s climate impact about x3 greater than previously thought

Aviation’s climate footprint could be 3 times bigger than its current estimate, according to a new study by the EU’s aviation regulator EASA, which has been sent to the European Commission. It examined the climate impact of aviation emissions other than CO2, which include nitrogen oxides, soot particles, oxidised sulphur and water vapour. The report found that after including the non-CO2 impacts “are currently warming the climate at approximately three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone.”  This is likely to put airlines under more pressure to clean up the industry. Aviation is responsible for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, but that does not reflect aviation’s true climate impact. The non-CO2 impacts have been ignored for far too long, and must be properly assessed and included in plans to limit global heating and climate breakdown. Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at green group Transport & Environment, said measures like putting a tax on jet fuel could be introduced rapidly. “The European Commission was first tasked with addressing the non-CO2 emissions of flying in 2008. It shouldn’t waste any more time in implementing the solutions that are available today.” 
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Aviation’s climate impact much greater than previously thought, regulator finds

The EASA report proposes financial, fuel-related and air traffic measures to cut non-CO2 emissions.  The report is likely to put airlines under more pressure to clean up the industry

BY MARI ECCLES (Politico EU)
November 25, 2020

Aviation’s climate footprint could be three times bigger than its current estimate, according to a new study by the EU’s aviation regulator EASA. https://www.easa.europa.eu/

The study, sent to the European Commission on Monday, examined the climate impact of aviation emissions other than CO2, which include nitrogen oxide, soot particles, oxidized sulfur and water vapour.

The report found that after including the impact of non-CO2 gases and particles “aviation emissions are currently warming the climate at approximately three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone.”

The report is fodder for climate activists who have long called for stronger regulation for the airline industry, and is likely to put airlines under more pressure to clean up the industry. Aviation is responsible for about 2% of global CO2 emissions.  [That is probably an under-estimate.  It is at least 2.5% ]

Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at green group Transport & Environment, said the report “confirms that carbon emissions are only the tip of the iceberg when accounting for aviation’s climate impact. Contrails and other non-CO2 effects of aviation need to be urgently tackled to avert climate crisis.”

Stay Grounded, another advocacy group, said the EU should ensure “aviation’s real climate impact is accounted for in emission inventories and policy measures,” adding that policymakers “ignored” the effects of non-CO2 emissions by taking so long to study their effects.

The report itself comes almost a year after the Commission was supposed to publish it. When asked about the delay in March, Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean’s office said it was “due to the scientific complexity of the issues at stake, the fact that new findings are still expected, and the limited pool of experts specialized in this field.

The impact of non-CO2 aviation emissions is not well studied, partly because they are difficult to quantify. Emissions like contrails — the vapor trails created when cruising at high altitudes — are temporary. Non-CO2 emissions could have a cooling or warming effect depending on the altitude or location. For emissions like soot and sulfur, the study said a greater understanding of their effects is “urgently required.”

It’s partly due to their previously unknown effects that non-CO2 emissions have been kept out of major aviation climate schemes including the U.N.-sponsored Corsia and the EU’s Emissions Trading System.

In its accompanying note to the European Parliament and Council, the Commission said the report’s findings “need to be addressed,” but warned that “the complexity of non-CO2 climate impacts relative to CO2 ones and the trade-offs between various impacts, poses a challenge” in terms of what policymakers ought to do.

Innovate, tax or tweak

The report proposed three kinds of policy measures — financial, fuel-related and air traffic management-related — to tackle the impact of emissions.

Financial:   Among the financial measures, the report suggested including non-CO2 emissions in the EU’s Emissions Trading System, where they are currently not counted, and introducing a charge on nitrogen emissions.

Fuel-related:   To tackle non-CO2 emissions at source, the EU Aviation Safety Agency recommended the mandatory use of sustainable aviation fuels and to use fuel with a different composition so that fewer non-CO2 particles are emitted when burnt.

Air traffic management:   Under the air traffic management options, EASA’s report suggests a “climate charge” to address all non-CO2 effects, and managing flight routes to avoid regions considered climate-sensitive.

Some of the measures suggested would take years to implement, the report said. Others, like a tax on jet fuel and an expansion of the ETS, are currently being considered.

“The European Commission was first tasked with addressing the non-CO2 emissions of flying in 2008. It shouldn’t waste any more time in implementing the solutions that are available today,” Dardenne said.

https://www.politico.eu/article/aviation-climate-impact-greater-than-previous-estimate/

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see earlier:

New study indicates non-CO2 impacts of aviation are twice as large as the CO2 alone (study by a large number of authors, including many eminent UK climate scientists)

A new study trying to elucidate the various non-CO2 impacts of aviation has been published. There is very complicated science about the positive radiative forcing (ie. extra impact on increasing global temperature) of the water vapour, NOx and other gases, and particles emitted from jet engines at altitude. This study concludes that the non-CO2 impacts of “aviation emissions are currently warming the climate at approximately three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone.” They have looked in detail at the various effects and interactions. There are numerous non-CO2 impacts, some of which cause more radiation to be reflected back out to space, and some cause heat to be trapped, warming the earth. These effects include the contrails, ice cloud changes, sulphate and soot particles from jet engines, water vapour from jet engines, NOx emissions and production of ozone. The effects of contrails and extra cloud formation are perhaps easier to study, and more research is needed on the impacts of soot and sulphate particles.  The confirmation of the large contribution to warming, from the non-CO2 impacts of aviation is important.  The climate impact of aviation, including non-CO2 effects, has to be fully taken into account in how the sector fits into the UK’s climate targets, and reaching “net zero”.  Currently the DfT ignores non-CO2 impacts, though the CCC has recommended that they should be included.

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