Climate Change News

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

High Court refuses application for JR of government programme to build more roads

Campaigners have lost a legal challenge to the government’s £27bn roadbuilding programme after the high court judge, Mr Justice Holgate, dismissed their application for a judicial review. Lawyers for Transport Action Network (TAN) argued that the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, had drawn up the roads investment strategy for England, known as RIS2, without taking into account the UK’s climate commitments or assessing the additional carbon emissions and climate impact of another 4,000 miles of road. Bizarrely, the judge considered the road building plans were not irrational, in bad faith or manifestly absurd. He accepted the assurances of the DfT that the road building policy was consistent with the UK's net zero target for 2050. And that a lot was being done to decarbonise road transport, but he added:  “Whether they are enough is not a matter for the court.” The campaigners, TAN, are appealing against the judgement.  The case could be an important precedent, relevant to aviation.  Prof Jillian Anable of Leeds University’s institute for transport studies said the DfT's road building plans, and disregard for the the climate implications, "can only be interpreted as either blatant dishonesty or failure to understand the science.”

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The future of Eurostar: How can we save our green link to Europe?

The Eurostar is one of the best ways that people in Britain can get to Europe, (as well as the ferry) avoiding flying.  But it has really struggled during the pandemic. Eurostar had to refinance twice;  March 2021 it borrowed £400 million and received a cash injection of £170 million from its owners; and again in May 2021 another £250 million. The company had to reduce from 20 trains to Paris per day to 1 train a day for most of lockdown. Since getting the new finance deal in place in May it increased to 3 trains per day and hoped to have a good summer to try and recoup some of its losses. It is uncertain if it will increase to more than three trains per day, and talks are taking place between the company and the recognised trade unions regarding what happens when furlough ends on 30 September.  It does not look good, in the run up to the COP26 talks in November, for the UK not to be helping this lower form of transport to and from Europe. The 3 rails unions, TSSA, RMT and Aslef are adamant that Eurostar must be given necessary assistance. Zoom meeting open to the public on 4th August.

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SAF competing for fuel feedstocks will have negative impacts on many other sectors

The aviation industry, and its enthusiastic backers like the UK government, are keen to claim the problem of the sector's vast carbon emissions can be solved, fairly soon, by SAF ("sustainable aviation fuels"). They agree these should not come directly from agricultural crops, competing with human food and animal fodder for land. They will instead come (as well as fuels produced using electricity) from agricultural, forestry and domestic wastes. These would be the feedstocks.  But there are significant problems, so far apparently overlooked by governments etc, about competing uses for those feedstocks. There are already markets for used cooking oil, and it can all be used for animal food, or in other industries. Taking crop wastes off the land not only means lower organic matter returned to the soil, reducing its structure and fertility, but also its removal for other uses - such as for animal bedding. There are competing uses for forestry waste, such as the paper and pulp industry.  Feedstocks could be used to make diesel for road vehicles, or burned to produce electricity. So if aviation wants these feedstocks, there will be competition and higher prices for other sectors. These problems should not be ignored in the mindlessly optimistic rush for the illusion of "jet zero".

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Chris Stark (CCC) on how aviation needs to cut its emissions, only using CCS – which it must pay for – as a last resort

The Head of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Chris Stark, has given evidence to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) on the aspirations of the aviation sector to get to "net zero" by 2050, and the government's "jet zero" plan. He said aviation, unlike other transport sectors, was unlikely to meet targets for net zero by 2050.  The sector should pay for costly engineered carbon removal technologies (CCS) rather than rely on using the planting of trees to claim they are reducing CO2 emissions.  And these offsets and removal technologies should only be used as a last resort, after direct cuts of carbon and emissions by the industry itself. He said carbon removal technologies are not a "free pass" for the industry. Removals are expensive, and the sector should pay for them themselves - which would put up ticket prices. It was regrettable that the DfT's transport decarbonisation plan had not mentioned the necessity of reducing air travel demand. There is a danger that the tech does not deliver. The plans need to be assessed every 5 years, and though that is a difficult choice for government, demand management may have to be considered in future.

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Start of Inquiry into refusal by North Somerset Council of Bristol Airport plans to expand by 2mppa

The public inquiry into Bristol Airport's expansion proposal began on 20th July with the airport hoping to overturn North Somerset Council's decision to refuse the expansion plans in February 2020. The inquiry is overseen by the Planning Inspectorate, and is scheduled to run until mid-October with three independent inspectors appointed to consider the airport's appeal. The airport wants to be allowed to have an extra 2 million annual passengers, from 10 million to 12 million. In its recently-published Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP), the DfT committed itself to achieving net zero within the aviation sector by 2050. Allowing airport expansion scheme is not going to help with that - quite the reverse. The worry is that, though the various expansion schemes for Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Leeds Bradford and Southampton - taken separately - look relatively small, collectively (and including Heathrow) the increase in carbon would be huge. The recent TDP does not follow the recommendation from its official advisors, the CCC, that any airport expansion should be offset by reducing flights elsewhere.

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Environmental Audit Cttee (EAC) call for evidence on “net zero aviation” and shipping

The (really excellent) Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has started a call for evidence for its inquiry on how to achieve "net zero" aviation and shipping.  It closes on 3 September and "Respondents need not answer all the questions and evidence need not be limited to these questions." Aviation now makes up (2019) 7% of UK carbon emissions, and shipping 3%. The Government’s recently published "Transport Decarbonisation Strategy" has pledged that new technology will allow domestic flights to be emissions-free by 2040, and international aviation to be zero carbon by 2050. The EAC asks a lot of vital questions about this, such as that the industry's plans need rely on carbon removal, the technologies for which are not yet developed at scale.  They point out that reducing demand for air travel represents the most cost-effective method available for maintaining current emission levels (though the government is unwilling to introduce measures to restrict air travel demand. The EAC is asking for comment on future production/availability of low carbon fuels, and the most equitable way to reduce aircraft passenger numbers (e.g. taxation, frequent flyer levies, restrictions on airport capacity etc).

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No 3rd Runway Coalition: “Heathrow expansion stopping UK from jet zero dreams”

The government hopes all international flights from the UK can be made "net zero" for carbon emissions by 2050. Its new consultation, called "Jet Zero" sets out what the DfT is hoping for, with the remarkable reduction in carbon emissions largely being brought about by "sustainable aviation fuels." The DfT is not keen on doing anything that would deliberately restrict air travel demand. Campaigners at Heathrow, the No 3rd Runway Coalition, point out that it would be hard enough to get anywhere near net zero for aviation emissions, even without airport expansion plans being allowed. And it would be completely impossible, if a 3rd Heathrow runway was allowed, adding perhaps up to another 9 million more tons of CO2 per year to be emitted. Paul McGuinness, Chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, said: “It has long been clear that Heathrow’s 3rd runway is incompatible with the UK climate targets and would take up the vast majority of aviation’s residual emissions in 2050."

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Stay Grounded considers “EU 55” proposals to cut aviation CO2 too slow, too many loopholes

The EU Commission has published its Fit for 55 climate package, which includes some changes for aviation. The Stay Grounded network of 170 aviation campaigns organisations welcomes the plan to end the tax exemption for jet fuel, but condemns its slow introduction, the problematic exemption for cargo flights and the limitation to intra-EU flights. It also criticises the unambitious changes in the EU ETS and the adoption of CORSIA for extra-EU flights. A key problem is that flights to non-EU destinations would not be included in the kerosene tax. Member states can and should decide to tax cargo-only and extra-EU flights, but the sector has lobbied hard against any higher charges. The new EU proposal is to introduce a “tighter cap” on the number of free allowances European airlines get for flights within the EU, through the EU ETS. But leaving flights to destinations outside the EU to the CORSIA scheme is unhelpful, as the scheme is too weak to have any effect. The EU consider that sustainable aviation fuels should account for at least 5% of aviation fuels by 2030 and 63% by 2050, and of that synthetic fuels should contribute to at least 28% of the aviation fuel mix by 2050. Stay Grounded says this is ridiculous, as is placing too much reliance on "sustainable" jet fuels in future, with their likely environmental impacts and demand for electricity.

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Jet Zero consultation – what it says on “sustainable aviation fuels” (spoiler…crazy over-optimism)

The DfT's consultation on reducing aviation carbon emissions, "Jet Zero" places a lot of faith in finding novel, low carbon fuels, so people can continue to fly as much as they want. These are called "Sustainable Aviation Fuels" (SAF). The consultation says SAF "could play a key role in decarbonising aviation, whilst also representing an industrial leadership opportunity for the UK." The economic opportunity aspect, and producing jobs, is key for the DfT.  They say "Many experts view SAF as the only alternative for long-haul flights up to 2050, which are the flights with the biggest climate impact." The DfT is hoping SAF could "result in over 70% CO2 emissions saving on a lifecycle basis and could deliver net zero emissions with the addition of greenhouse gas removal technologies." SAF would either be biogenic, non-biogenic (from wastes) or made using zero-carbon electricity.  There are huge problems, glossed over by the consultation. A key problem is that "there is currently no comprehensive global regulatory standard for SAF sustainability. The UK is therefore active at ICAO in negotiating for a full set of sustainability criteria for SAF." The DfT "will shortly consult on a UK SAF mandate setting out our level of ambition for future SAF uptake."

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Jet Zero consultation – what it says on “Influencing Consumers” – keep flying, depend on techno-optimism

The DfT has launched its consultation, called "Jet Zero" on how the UK might decarbonise flights, by 2050. One really effective way to do that would be to reduce the demand for air travel, which is what the Climate Change Committee  (CCC) recommended. The CCC said (24th June) "Lack of ambition for aviation demand management would result in higher emissions of 6.4 MtCO2e/year in 2030 relative to the CCC pathway for aviation emissions." But the Jet Zero consultation just says "We want to preserve the ability for people to fly whilst supporting consumers to make sustainable travel choices." And "This Government is committed to tackling the CO2 emissions from flights, whilst preserving the ability for people to fly." And "we currently believe the sector can achieve Jet Zero without the Government needing to intervene directly to limit aviation growth" and cut aviation CO2 by as much as the CCC says is needed, but by other means - SAF, hydrogen, electric planes etc. It then says it will "seek to address residual carbon emissions through robust, verifiable offsets and additional greenhouse gas removals." And it acknowledges that these are all "currently at a relatively early stage of development and [their deployment] requires collaboration and commitment across all parts of the sector if it is to succeed." It also considers carbon information for flights, but only so people can still fly, but choose different airline options.

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