Climate change will mean aviation will have to change, even if very reluctantly
Though the Dutch government lost its legal battle recently, trying to limit the number of flights using Schiphol, this was not the triumph the airlines hoped for. Airlines are scared that governments, realising the high CO2 emissions from the sector and no realistic plan to reduce them for several decades, will bring in measures to limit flights or demand for air travel. UN secretary-general António Guterres has said that the latest report by the IPCC showed a “quantum leap” in climate action was now required – and that should include aviation. The Dutch government only lost its case, on a technicality – so it may press on. The aviation sector may try to bring in restrictions itself, in the hope of avoiding more draconian measures being imposed. It is increasingly apparent that the sector’s decarbonisation road maps, largely relying on huge amounts of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), operational efficiencies and technological breakthroughs, will not deliver the “net zero” emissions target by 2050 – especially while the sector tries to grow each year. The chief executive of French airport operator Aéroports de Paris has openly admitted that demand growth has to slow for a time — at least in developed countries.
Climate crisis means aviation must change — Whether it likes it or not
As sentiment shifts, the industry must engage in debate on how to temper growth
BY PEGGY HOLLINGER (FT)
The Dutch government lost its legal battle last week to cap flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, but that ruling was not the victory for airlines it seemed
Aviation’s worst nightmare is that governments searching for quick solutions to the climate crisis might be tempted to curb demand for air travel, which accounts for roughly 2.5% of global CO₂ emissions. Last month, UN secretary-general António Guterres turned up the heat when he said that the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed a “quantum leap” in climate action was now required if warming was to be limited to 1.5C.
So there was a huge sigh of relief from airlines when the Dutch government lost its legal battle last week to cap flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, in an effort to reduce noise and pollution. One of the most aggressive attempts to address the environmental impacts of aviation appeared to have been stopped in its tracks. But that ruling was not the victory it seemed. The decision was based on a technicality, and the government has not yet said it will abandon its attempt to shrink Schiphol. The day before, perhaps in hopes of averting the worst, the state-owned airport announced its own restrictions. Schiphol will ban night flights, private jets and noisy aircraft, and has said it will reverse plans to build a new runway.
But some in the industry worry that even this voluntary shrinking will not suffice. “It will be very difficult to avoid demand management,” says one veteran aviation industry executive. “Our solutions are medium to long-term. The sheer speed of climate change is such that . . . we need to reduce emissions much more drastically than we thought.”
Aviation’s most ardent defenders have many arguments for why Schiphol’s situation will not herald a flood of copycat measures. The cap was because of controversy over noise and high nitrogen emissions, rather than the climate crisis, say some. Private aviation will migrate elsewhere, which does not lower emissions, say others.
But whether or not the cap was prompted by climate concerns is almost irrelevant. “On the face of it, this looks like a clear signal of things to come,” says the industry executive. It is increasingly apparent that the sector’s decarbonisation road maps, which rely on the widespread use of sustainable aviation fuel, operational efficiencies and technological breakthroughs, will struggle to deliver net zero emissions by 2050.
According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, only under the most optimistic scenario do CO₂ emissions stabilise at near-zero levels by 2050. “To get to 1.5C, out-of-sector action and/or significant direct curbs to traffic growth would be needed,” the ICCT said last year. The UK’s Climate Change Committee has reached a similar conclusion. This is especially true as air travel roars back after pandemic-enforced lockdowns.
The risk is, as aircraft return to the skies and noise and climate concerns converge, the industry will find itself under even greater scrutiny. In some countries, that is already happening. Last week, France’s transport minister proposed a 70% increase in fuel tax on private jets. He is also pushing for a tougher EU-wide approach to private aircraft, which are substantially more polluting per passenger than commercial aviation, although they account for a relatively small share of overall aviation emissions.
Politicians find it easier to target so-called “fat cats”. But from there, it might not be so hard to go after frequent flyers on commercial jets. According to the ICCT, the richest 2% of the global population takes 40% of all flights. No surprise, then, that pressure is mounting for a frequent flyer levy that penalises the wealthiest. These and other initiatives, such as carbon pricing, are all forms of demand management, making airfares more costly.
But realists in the industry know demand cannot continue to grow faster than the sector can cut emissions. Augustin de Romanet, chief executive of French airport operator Aéroports de Paris, has openly admitted that demand growth has to slow for a time — at least in developed countries — if aviation is to navigate a difficult transition. The question now is how that will be done. Aviation can ignore or even lobby furiously against the threat of demand management. That would be a mistake. The better option for the industry, passengers and the climate would be to engage in a constructive debate about how much growth is compatible with ambitions for pollution-free flights. firstname.lastname@example.org
European aviation industry claims bill of €800bn to reach net zero emissions
Estimated cost of hitting target by 2050 comes as sector steps up lobbying for green incentives
By Philip Georgiadis (FT)
European aviation faces more than €800bn in extra costs to reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit climate change, according to industry estimates that highlight the challenge facing the sector as it decarbonises.
The industry has committed to hitting net zero carbon emissions through a mix of new technologies, notably alternative fuels, as well as carbon offsets and more efficient aircraft, engines and air traffic management.
Reaching net zero would need “considerable additional efforts compared to business as usual”, and would cost €820bn over a 32-year period from 2018 to 2050, according to a report commissioned by airline industry bodies.
By far the biggest expense would be €441bn spent on cleaner fuels, which are not made from fossil fuels but from feedstocks such as animal fat, cooking oil or household waste, the report said.
These “sustainable aviation fuels” can reduce the total emissions from a flight by about 70 per cent, but are more expensive than jet fuel and are only produced in extremely limited quantities.
The report by research groups SEO Amsterdam Economics and the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre was commissioned by a group of aviation lobby groups including Airlines for Europe (A4E) and airport trade body ACI Europe.
It said that aviation companies including airlines and airports would be unable to fund the climate transition alone, partly because the industry has struggled to be consistently profitable in the past.
“Since [profits] are historically low due to high levels of competition and compounded by recent crises, the absorption capacity by the sector, in particular that of European airlines and hubs is expected to be low,” the report said.
The industry has sought significant new support from European policymakers, including classifying newer and more efficient aircraft powered by conventional jet fuel as a green investment under EU rules for sustainable finance, to help attract private capital.
Environmental experts have said this would amount to “a huge act of greenwashing” as it would effectively classify highly polluting planes as sustainable.
“The report illustrates that Europe will need a stable and predictable investment environment and a consistent policy framework to ensure that European aviation can access the necessary capital,” said lobby group A4E.
A separate analysis from S&P Global, a rating agency, this month found that planes “currently have no cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels”.
It added that environmental regulations, including EU taxes on carbon emissions, could “incentivise innovation”, but added that investment in low-carbon and no-carbon power sources “is costly and thus risky, especially given the long investment lead times”.
France plans 70% ‘supertax’ on fuel for private jets
The Local France – email@example.com
7 Apr, 2023
France is set to dramatically increase taxes on fuel for private jets, as the government rejects a proposal from environmentalist and left-wing senators to ban short flights altogether.
Last year, environmentalist senators proposed a bill planning flights by private jet if the journey can be made by train in less than two-and-a-half hours – bringing private flights into line with commercial ones in France;.
At the same time MPs from the far-left La France Insoumise party, sitting in France’s Assemblée nationale, had filed a bill to ban the use of all private jets in France, calling it “an urgent ecological measure”.
Rather than go down the all-out ban route, the 2023 Budget bill includes provisions for a 70% increase in fuel tax for private aviation from 2024, Minister of Transport Clément Beaune told MPs in the Assembly during a debate on the pollution caused by private jets.
And he promised further action may be possible as soon as 2024.
Beaune has made no secret of his opposition to a total or partial ban on private jet flights, despite admitting that some examples – such as football club Paris Saint-Germain using a private flight to Nantes, which is a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from the capital – were “shocking, often out of place, sometimes unacceptable”.
He went on: “I announce to you, we will go further if you agree in the budget for 2024 by proposing that private commercial aviation (…) may be subject to an additional contribution, an eco-contribution revised upwards, which will allow us to precisely take into account these behaviours,” continued the minister.
“The general ban is good for the conscience but does not advance ecological transition in practice,” Beaune said , stressing the “legal obstacles” and the difficulty of defining and controlling exemptions.
Environmentalists proposed to ban “non-scheduled air transport services of passengers not subject to commercial operation”, as well as non-scheduled public air transport services “in which the number of passengers is less than 60”.
MP Julien Bayou said: “It is the measure that penalises the fewest people but produces the maximum effect for the climate and the atmosphere,” he said.