Climate Change News
Below are news items on climate change – many with relevance to aviation
Climate charity Possible and law firm Leigh Day have made formal complaints to Virgin Atlantic and BA, over false sustainability claims
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are facing formal complaints over their sustainable flight claims, after being accused of misleading potential customers about the environmental credentials of aviation and so-called "sustainable aviation fuels" SAF. Virgin Atlantic flew a plane, as a commercial PR stunt, powered by allegedly low carbon fuel, consisting largely of "used" cooking oil. This was partly funded by the UK government. Now the climate charity Possible and the law firm Leigh Day have filed formal complaints against the airlines, over their claims about reducing emissions from flights by use of SAF in future. There cannot ever be enough genuinely low carbon fuels, that do not cause other environmental harms, for more than a few flights. The airlines are misleading consumers over their claims on reducing carbon emissions from flights, as lay-people do not have the expertise to discern the limits of decarbonisation technology. There are unsupported claims that some SAF can give up to 70% carbon savings. But when burned in a jet engine, SAF produces almost the same CO2 emissions as kerosene, which then stays in the atmosphere. It also produces contrails and other non-CO2 effects.
Virgin “SAF” flight – it’s just unrealistic aviation hype to delay real emissions cuts
There is to be a transatlantic flight by Virgin Atlantic, which is claimed to be fuelled 100% by so called "sustainable" aviation fuels (SAF). It is a publicity stunt, to attempt to persuade government, and the flying public, that in future flying can be low carbon - allegedly "guilt free". But there is never going to be enough genuinely low-carbon fuel for more than a tiny % of flights. Jet fuels produced by taking agricultural land are recognised as not acceptable. The only fuels that might justify the term "sustainable", e-fuels, would have to be made from hydrogen, produced from surplus renewably generated electricity, combined with CO2 captured from the air, processed using renewably generated electricity. When the fuel is burned in a jet engine, it produces CO2 in just the same way as kerosene. A huge amount of low carbon electricity would be needed to produce e-fuels, and that would far more effectively be used for terrestrial demand - heating, vehicles etc. The industry claims SAF can reduce the emission of CO2 overall by (up to) 70% compared to kerosene, depending on the fuel and several variables. There is a real danger that the SAF hype being promoted by airlines and governments will reduce pressure for a reduction in flying, which is the only real way to cut aviation CO2. Read the new report by AEF, "Sustainable Aviation Fuels - Hope or Hype?"
Gimmick trans-Atlantic flight by Virgin, using used cooking oil + oil derived from corn
Next week, Virgin Atlantic will operate the first transatlantic flight on a large aircraft using what is calls 100% “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF). The fuel to be used is derived from used cooking oil and oil from corn (maize). “The huge elephant in the room of all these biofuels is there simply is not the volume of feedstock available to go anywhere near the amount of fuel that is currently being burned in the world’s airliners,” said Guy Gratton, associate professor of aviation and environment at Cranfield University. Matt Finch, UK policy lead at the think-tank Transport & Environment, said there are problems with using used cooking oil to produce SAF as the feedstock has a limited supply and is already used regularly by the automotive industry to produce biodiesel. The corn-based fuel being used in the flight is what is known as a “first generation biofuel”, which is effectively banned from production in the UK and EU, due to the adverse environmental impact of growing food to be used as fuel. It just drives deforestation. Cait Hewitt, policy director at the Aviation Environment Federation, added: “This is basically a showpiece flight isn’t it? Rather than anything that could be seriously replicated in terms of day to day commercial operation of aviation.”
Role of the advertising industry in promoting high carbon lifestyle choices
Some quotes from an article about advertising and flying: "More than half of Delta Air Lines’ approximately $151m ad spend from October 2022 to October 2023, for example, was spent advertising long-haul flights, encouraging travellers to rack up air miles to use for more travel, and pushing upgrades to premium classes, although the airline also spent tens of millions of dollars to advertise its commitment to “sustainable aviation fuels”. Qatar Airways, meanwhile, directed more than 85% of its advertising spend during the same year into marketing business class and long-haul flights exclusively. Short-haul flights are not necessarily environmentally preferable, particularly flights that could be replaced by a rail trip; they emit more carbon dioxide per kilometre than long-haul flights, making them more carbon intensive. However, long-haul flights emit more in total; they account for only 6% of total flights, yet are responsible for 51% of air travel emissions." See the whole article.
Research paper from Chatham house suggests way to fairly reduce air travel demand
A new research paper, from Chatham House, sets out how UK demand for air travel could be managed, and reduced to a level that might be compatible with climate targets. At the current level of air travel demand (that the government is unwilling to challenge) the aviation sector will far exceed its target emissions, out to 2050. The Chatham house paper suggests that "in the UK the top 20% of earners fly 5 times more often than the poorest 20%. It may be possible to achieve a 36% reduction in demand by 2030 if a future demand-management policy shifted behaviour so that most people who currently take more than one return flight per year reduced that number by one return flight and took no more than 4. This would leave the 77% of the UK population who currently take no more than one return flight unaffected. This is a moderate level of behaviour change... affecting only a small proportion of people with a high consumption of flights. Under the frequent flyer levy proposal, produced by the New Economics Foundation and climate charity Possible in 2021, leisure passengers would be charged no frequent flyer levy on their first return flight, increasing to an indicative figure of £585 on their 10th flight of the year.
France and Kenya set to launch Cop28 coalition for global taxes, including aviation, to fund climate action
The taskforce, set to be launched at Cop28, will consider the feasibility of levies on shipping, aviation, financial transactions and fossil fuels. The aim is to push for new ways to raise more money for climate action. The governments are in advanced discussions with a handful of European and Global South countries that could join the coalition in Dubai. France’s development minister said the goal is to agree on specific proposals by Cop30, in two years’ time. Those could then be negotiated in relevant international institutions, like the OECD, the UN or the G20. Many country leaders and climate experts see taxes as among the most promising so-called innovative sources of finance that could help plug the large gap in the provision of climate funding to vulnerable countries. Countries are not going to provide the funds demanded for "loss and damage" and the Green Climate Fund, from existing tax revenues, so these new ones are needed. Taxes on fossil fuel extraction and the emissions of the shipping industry could raise up to $210 billion and $60 billion a year respectively, according to a recent study - and aviation between $4 and $150 per year. But it could take years to get the details agreed, with different levies in different countries - let alone enforcement.
More night train services are starting up in Europe, so people can avoid flying
At their best, fares for night trains can be good value, combining the cost of a bed for the night and hundreds of miles of travel, but prices quickly ramp up on busy routes, often putting them out of reach for most travelers. Wherever they run, night trains are complicated, labor intensive and expensive to operate – one of the major reasons they went into decline in the first place. Until now, the quality of accommodation has been patchy, ranging from modern and comfortable to basic and outdated. But there is now a renaissance in Europe. Spreading quickly from Scandinavia, the flygskam (flight shame) phenomenon is encouraging climate-conscious travelers to seek alternatives to short-haul air travel. Led by Austrian Federal Railways’ (ÖBB) “Nightjet” network, overnight links between major European cities have been restored and expanded over the last few years. There are now also small one-person "pods" on some trains. Working with Swiss Federal Railways and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, ÖBB has reinvigorated overnight routes linking main hubs in Vienna and Zürich with cities in Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and, more recently, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. See full article.
Denmark is proposing a small tax on all flights, half the revenue to produce SAF and half for pensions
Denmark has announced a new proposal to implement a “green tax” on all flights in an effort to fund a sustainable-energy transition for its domestic air travel. The plan is to charge passengers (in Danish krones) around $9 for flights within Europe, $35 for medium-distance flights and $56 for long-distance flights by 2030. The policy would come into effect at the start of 2025. The tax might raise 1.2 billion krones (about €160 million) per year, and it is alleged this would help airlines to fuel all domestic flights (Denmark is a small country ...) with so-called Sustainable Jet Fuel by 2030. Part of the revenue would support pension increases for elderly citizens. Denmark's Minister for Climate, Energy and Utilities said “The flight sector in Denmark must — as all other sectors — lower its carbon footprint and get on board a green future. ” Initiatives to lessen air travel are generally more popular in Europe than in the US, where lack of government initiative and there is less good alternative high-speed travel infrastructure. Magdalena Heuwieser, co-founder of the Stay Grounded network, said Denmark has enough rail connections to ban all domestic flights, and that would be much more sustainable than a push for SAF.
Transport Select Committee urges DfT to redraft planning policy statements to align with net zero objectives
The Transport Select Committee has criticised the DfT's planned revision of the National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) for not giving sufficient weight to Net Zero. The Committee has published its analysis of the government’s proposals to revamp planning policies for nationally significant road and rail infrastructure projects (NSIPs). They urged ministers to redraft sections that would be used to determine whether major new projects are compatible with net zero legislation, based on the carbon emissions that would be produced during and after their construction. In its current form, the NNNPS would not cut emissions in live with decarbonisation targets. The Committee also made recommendations on the way the DfT looks at different options for projects, how to make its decision-making more transparent, and that calculations of future demand should be more transparent. It proposes that there should be an over-arching Transport NPS, including airports, which would consider new infrastructure, its carbon emissions and impact on sites of biodiversity or geological interest.
Airlines oppose Dutch plan to phase out EU fossil fuel subsidies
Airline bosses are, unsurprisingly, opposed to a Dutch plan for an EU-wide phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies. They say it should not be introduced, while rail travel is so expensive, and the airline sector does not yet have low carbon fuels. The Dutch government announced last month that it spent up to €46.4bn in 2023 supporting the use of fossil fuels, either through direct subsidies or tax schemes that indirectly led to more polluting energies being used. More than €3.6bn went to airlines, as fuel supplied for use in aviation is currently fully exempt from taxation in the EU. The Dutch government is keen to reform the tax system and cutting subsidies was “crucial” to achieving a transition to lower carbon industries, and net zero by 2050. An EU proposal to update energy rules in 2019, which aimed to remove many fossil fuel subsidies, stalled as it requires unanimous approval from all 27 member states, which it is unlikely to get. The Dutch government introduced a cap on flights at Schiphol earlier in the year.