Climate Change News

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

Natural England objects to proposed jet fuel from waste plant, backed by BA, Shell and Velocys

BA has been trying to get some jet fuel made from domestic waste that would otherwise go to landfill, so it can claim it is using "low carbon" fuels. There were plans for a plant in east London, by Solena, back in 2014 but that never got off the ground; Solena went bust in October 2015. Now BA and Shell and Velocys are hoping for a plant on an 80-acre site on Humberside, to convert waste that would go to landfill, into jet fuel. However, Natural England are worried it could harm local wildlife and have filed an objection. Velocys says the plant would turn household waste into 60 million litres of "low-carbon" jet fuel every year. The project is backed by £4.5m of investment from Shell and British Airways, alongside a £434,000 grant from the Department of Transport. In a letter dated 20 February 2020 Natural England said it objects to the development because trucks ferrying waste to the site could increase nitrogen oxide levels - which can cause serious health impacts for humans and wildlife. It is also concerned construction and waste from the site could disturb nearby habitats for rare birds.  It is now for North East Lincolnshire Council to decide whether to approve the scheme.

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Karl Turner asks: Where next for the UK’s airport policy?

On 27th February 2020 the Court of Appeal declared the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) to be illegal as the Government had not taken into consideration their commitments on climate under the Paris Agreement. So unless Heathrow succeeds in appealing to the Supreme Court, or Shapps amends the ANPS, Heathrow expansion is unlikely to happen. Expansion at Heathrow would have had a negative impact on the regions of the UK.  The forthcoming Aviation White Paper [Aviation Strategy] provides the opportunity for Government to have a rethink about its entire aviation policy, particularly with regard to any future airport expansion. At the very most, UK aviation could expand by 25% on its 2018 level. But the current government projections are for 73% expansion by 2050, with various entirely speculative technologies that do not exist, or would be prohibitively expensive, removing the carbon.  Alternative fuels are not going to happen on any scale. The government must avoid financial measures that boost aviation demand or support failing airline businesses, which cannot be justified in light of the climate crisis. . 

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Big airline polluters likely to increase their CO2 emissions post-Covid, unless this is better regulated

The carbon emissions of EU airlines grew in 2019. There will be a steep fall in their emissions for an unknown amount of time, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But air passenger numbers repeatedly broke records in the aftermath of global shocks such as the 2008 financial crisis, the September 11 attacks, the Gulf War […]

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What the Covid-19 pandemic can teach us about changes to life in future, and tackling climate change

There are lots of comments in the media about how society recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the unique opportunity the crisis has provided for a re-think of many aspects of our economies. Governments and business etc will want to go for maximum economic growth, as soon as the crisis has been dealt with. The climate and ecological crises the earth faces will not have gone away, and will continue to worsen unless decisive and effective action is taken. Time may have been wasted on cutting carbon emissions, due to the virus crisis. There is a risk of environmental constraints being abandoned, in the rush for a return of economic growth. But there is also talk of the de-growth economy - slowing of growth in sectors that damage the environment, such as fossil fuel industries, and strengthening others, until the economy operates within Earth’s limits.  Such a transformation would be profound, and so far no nation has shown the will to implement it. Coronavirus has caused unprecedented and rapid societal changes, and social constraints that would have been considered unimaginable just 2 months ago. There are practical lessons and opportunities we could take away from the coronavirus emergency as we seek to tackle climate change, though that is neither short-term, nor rapidly overcome.

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AEF asks: how should policymakers react to Covid-19 problems for aviation, and plan for the sector’s future?

The global changes to the aviation sector, caused by Covid-19, have been rapid and radical. It would have been impossible back in January to anticipate how many flights would be grounded, how air travel demand would sink, and how many airlines would be struggling to stay solvent. In a thoughtful piece by the AEF (Aviation Environment Federation), they consider how aviation policy needs to be re-thought, when the virus crisis is over. It is an opportunity to re-think society's relationship to air travel, in a world that has been woken up to the realities of a global pandemic, and its consequences. Even when the sector hopes, post-virus, to get back to "business as usual" flying, the long-term danger of climate breakdown remains - and the threat worsens. The AEF says it is time to cease aviation exceptionalism, and the special treatment is gets on environmental policies and regulations. This needs to change.  And there should not be measures to cut aviation tax, as demanded by the industry, that increase air travel demand. That is not justifiable. Covid-19 has demonstrated the desire, by millions, to look after and care about the welfare of others. Perhaps this virus wake up call could bring the dawning of a more responsible age.

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DfT consultation on “Decarbonising Transport” – nothing of substance to cut aviation CO2

The DfT has quietly published (no press release or announcement - we are in the Covid-19 crisis) a consultation about Decarbonising Transport.  The end date is around June, but not specified.  Shapps says: "2020 will be the year we set out the policies and plans needed to tackle transport emissions. This document marks the start of this process. It gives a clear view of where we are today and the size of emissions reduction we need."  And, less encouragingly: "We will lead the development of sustainable biofuels, hybrid and electric aircraft to lessen and remove the impact of aviation on the environment and by 2050..." (he actually believes electric planes will make much difference in a few decades??). It also says "Aviation, at present, is a relatively small contributor to domestic UK GHG emissions. Its proportional contribution is expected to increase significantly as other sectors decarbonise more quickly." And while saying we are working with ICAO on its CORSIA carbon scheme (unlikely to be effective) the document states: "...we would be minded to include international aviation and shipping emissions in our carbon budgets if there is insufficient progress at an international level." But overall the intention is to let demand for air travel continue to rise.

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Fatih Birol, of IEA, says due to Covid-19 Governments have ‘historic opportunity’ to accelerate clean energy transition

International Energy Agency (IEA) head Fatih Birol is calling on heads of state and international financial institutions to make Coronavirus recovery plans sustainable. He says political and financial leaders have “a historic opportunity” to usher in a new era for global climate action with economic stimulus packages. These stimulus packages are a critical opportunity for governments to “shape policies” in line with climate action. This is a great opportunity to focus, instead of on fossil fuels, on clean energy technologies and accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. Currently huge sums are spent on keeping the price of fossil fuels low. Instead, now is a unique historic opportunity. This includes the aviation sector, which represents 1% of the global economy but 8% of global oil consumption. When plans to reinvigorate economies get going, they must address climate breakdown; including financial stimuli using low interest rates for low carbon electricity is key - and funding carbon capture and storage technologies. Governments need to increase the production of climate-proof jobs, avoiding jobs in "stranded asset" fossil fuel industries.

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Manston DCO decision postponed to May – but would be the first since the Appeal Court ruling on climate impact

Though it has not had much publicity outside east Kent, the application to turn Manston  (which has been closed as an airport since May 2014) into a freight airport could be an important case. It was the first airport to have to take its plans through the DCO (Development Consent Order) process, dependant on the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). Manston is a crazy place to have a freight airport, being at the north eastern tip of Kent, miles from anywhere. It always failed as an airport in the past, largely due to its location. The Heathrow runway has been blocked by the Court of Appeal, which ruled (27th March)  the ANPS is illegal, as it did not take carbon emissions into account properly. That has implications for Manston's plans. Already before the Court judgment, the Manston DCO had been delayed from 18th January, to 18th May.  The initial DCO application had nothing on carbon emissions. Something was finally added, because of pressure from local campaigners. Now lawyers say the decision about Manston's DCO could have implications for other airport DCOs in future including Gatwick and Luton, as well as Heathrow.

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New report – if the UK seriously wants to be net-zero carbon by 2050, flying will need to be seriously reduced

A new report has been produced by the government-funded research group, called Catapult Energy Systems, whose computer models are used by the Committee on Climate Change, which advises government.  The report called "Innovating to Net Zero" looked at various scenarios for the UK to cut its carbon emissions by 2050. It considers that the UK cannot go climate neutral much before 2050 unless people stop flying and eating red meat almost completely. It also warns that the British public do not look ready to take such steps and substantially change their lifestyle. For the world to have a realistic chance of avoiding an average global temperature rise of over 2 degrees C, carbon cuts internationally will have to be made well before 2050. The report says it might be possible for the UK to get to net zero by 2050, but only if ministers act much more quickly. And as well as cutting flying, the UK will only manage to continue with our current lifestyles, if there is a lot of progress on carbon capture and storage with bioenergy crops; hydrogen for a wide variety of uses if there is spare renewably generated electricity; and advanced nuclear power. Even if flying was almost eliminated, the UK is unlikely to reach net zero before 2045. 

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Ban short-haul flights for climate? In EU poll by the European Investment Bank, 62% say yes

A majority of European citizens would support a ban on short-distance flights to fight climate change, according to a recent survey the European Investment Bank (EIB). Of 28,088 respondents to the survey, 62% favoured a ban. And 72% said they would support a carbon tax on flights. The poll, conducted in September-October 2019, covered the then-28 European Union member states, including Britain.  It simply asked about support for a ban on short-distance flights and did not specify the length.   Emissions from flights inside the European Economic Area are covered by the EU carbon market, the Emissions Trading System. These CO2 emissions increased in each of 5 years, 2014-2018, according to the latest available EU data. More people are aware of the climate impact of flying, and considering cutting down how much they fly.  European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said all sectors must contribute to the EU’s target to reduce the bloc’s net emissions to zero by 2050. The EIB said its survey showed Europeans might support action to tackle climate change, even when it impacts their daily lives.

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