Climate Change News

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

Airbus – in dire financial problems – talks of plans for hydrogen fuelled future planes

Airbus has been publicising its hopes to have hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes in service within 20 years.  Apart from the technical problems of how to store liquid or compressed hydrogen on a plane, and how to transport it etc, there is the massive problem of the energy it would take to generate the vast amount of hydrogen that would be needed. Currently there is "blue" hydrogen, which is generated from fossil fuels, and the production of which emits carbon (unless and until there is CCS to store that CO2 underground) or "green" hydrogen, which would be produced using low carbon electricity, from wind farms etc. Currently there is almost no "green" hydrogen. There are claims that burning hydrogen at high altitude would not cause the emission of soot particles, so contrails might form less than conventional jet kerosene. It would certainly produce water vapour. The necessary atmospheric research studies probably have not been done, at scale. Hydrogen, like electric planes and wonderful zero carbon fuels, are the hopes of the sector - that their climate problem can be (improbably) solved. Meanwhile Airbus' CEO announced it is in danger of collapse, due to Covid, and it needs to cut 15,000 jobs, or more than 11% of the group’s workforce.

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European Commission under fire for including ‘carbon sinks’ (eg. forest) into EU climate goal of 55% cut on 1990 level by 2030

The EU has a current target of cutting carbon emissions by 40% on the 1990 level by 2030. But with the European Green Deal, it has been proposed that target should be increased to 55%. Some European countries do not want this - while climate experts say even greater carbon cuts are needed.  The European 55% target would include use of "carbon sinks" in the figures, so there is an assumed amount of carbon being absorbed by forests etc, meaning net carbon emissions would appear to be lower than they really are. This might be a difference of 2% or else perhaps 5%.  Some environmental campaign groups said this use of carbon sinks was “an accounting trick” and “Relying on forests to reach climate targets sends the wrong signal that it’s OK to keep polluting because the land will absorb it.” In Europe, forests are currently a net carbon sink because they take in more carbon dioxide than they emit.  But their capacity to absorb CO2 “has been shrinking” over the years, and if left unchecked, could further decline - due to cutting down trees and forest, and damage to them from fires, pests, more demand for biomass, and impacts of climate change. Mature forests have to be kept healthy, and just planting new saplings is not enough.

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Plan B Earth case for Supreme Court appeal by Heathrow, against Appeal Court ruling that ANPS was illegal, due to Paris Agreement

On 7th and 8th October, there will be a Supreme Court hearing of the appeal, by Heathrow airport, against the ruling by the Appeal Court in February 2020 that the Government's Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was illegal. Heathrow cannot proceed with plans for a 3rd runway, without a legal ANPS.  The government itself decided not to challenge the Appeal Court decision - it is only Heathrow.  Friends of the Earth and Plan B Earth are defending the case. The decision of the Appeal Court was due to the failure of the ANPS to properly take into account the UK's commitment to the Paris Agreement (aiming to keep global climate warming to 1.5C) and thus its duty to keep carbon emissions from rising. Plan  B Earth has published its response, challenging the Heathrow claim that the Paris Agreement is "not" government policy.  It is a 29 page document, but the conclusion is copied here. It states that: "At the time of the designation of the ANPS in June 2018, the Secretary of State (SST) [Chris Grayling] knew, or ought to have known, that the Government had: a) rejected the 2˚C temperature limit as creating intolerable risks, in the UK and beyond  b) committed instead to the Paris Agreement and the Paris Temperature Limit, and that it had  c) committed to introducing a new net zero target in accordance with the Paris Agreement.  These matters were fundamental to Government policy relating to climate change and it was irrational for the SST to treat them as irrelevant.

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Academic study suggests post-Covid re-think of size of airline sector, its costs and impacts

In a new paper, published in Science Direct, Professor Stefan Gossling looks at the future of the airline industry, especially after the set-back it has had from Covid. He says it is important to “think the unthinkable”, and not only what is possible for aviation, but what is desirable for society ... most stakeholders in industry and policymakers would agree that it is desirable for aviation to become more resilient financially and more sustainable climatically ... COVID-19 has forced many airlines to reduce their fleets, retire old aircraft, or stop serving long-haul destinations  ... As a result, air transport capacity is diminished. Further reductions in capacity may be achieved by reducing subsidies ... A scenario for a resilient aviation system should have a starting point in the question of how much air transport is needed ...where risks are accounted for, and where their cost is part of the price paid for air travel. In a situation of reduced supply, there should be an opportunity for airlines to increase profitability ... Many questions need to be asked, such as those addressing volume growth, the sector's reliance on State aid, its unresolved environmental impacts, and hence the basic assumptions on which aviation operates.

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Heathrow urged by 5 councils to end 3rd runway ‘fantasy’ – instead focus on cutting CO2 and noise

Councils have called on Heathrow to abandon once and for all its bid for a third runway and concentrate instead on working with the aviation industry to achieve zero carbon emissions and reduce noise impacts for overflown communities. Heathrow is due to challenge February’s Court of Appeal ruling against the expansion plan in October  (7th and 8th) at the Supreme Court. The 5 councils, (Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Windsor and Maidenhead) say there is no logic in the airport persisting with its runway fantasy. Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, said: "COVID-19 has changed everything. This is a unique period when we are all rethinking traditional assumptions about how we work, travel and grow our economies. As local councils we want the industry to get back on its feet. But this won't work without a fundamental rethink about the place of aviation in our society – and indeed where future capacity is most needed. Even Heathrow's chief executive has admitted that a new runway would not be needed for years due to the pandemic. Yet still the airport and its shareholders press on with the process and the prize of a planning permission for a runway that will never be built."

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Greenpeace Netherlands is going to court to force the Dutch government to discontinue their bailout for KLM

Greenpeace Netherlands is going to court to force the Dutch government to discontinue their bailout for airline KLM, because climate conditions are lacking. As a first step, Greenpeace formally informed the government. This lawsuit could potentially have important consequences for other airline bailouts. Just in Europe alone, governments have supported the airlines with €32.5 billion so far.  A spokesperson said the Dutch bailout "fuels the climate crisis, breaking the duty of the Dutch government to protect its citizens.”  KLM does not have a solid climate action plan and the environmental policy for aviation from the Dutch government is inadequate. The bailout is not even definitely saving many jobs in the airline. Vague hopes that in future electrical planes or planes that fly with sustainably sourced fuel, will not be available before too long are unrealistic. Therefore the number of flights needs to reduce substantially, and Greenpeace says this should start with revoking short-distance flights under a thousand kilometres. KLM was responsible for 8.6 MtCO2 emissions in 2018.

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Climate Assembly report: members aware future aviation CO2 has to be limited

The Climate Assembly was set up by the UK government in 2019. It consisted of 108 citizens, selected to be representative of the population and its views. They met over 6 weekends, with expert guidance and information, to discuss how the UK could get to net zero carbon by 2050. One of the many issues discussed was air travel. Overall there was wide support among the Assembly for limiting the growth of the sector, to some extent.  The anticipated growth of about 65% (from 2018 to 2050) was seen as too much. Many believed there would be advances in technology that would allow for increased numbers of passengers, but keeping to 30 MtCO2 aviation emissions by 2050 (the CCC's scenario). There was support for increasing the price of flying for frequent fliers, and those who flew long distances.  Assembly members wanted to see the airline industry invest in greenhouse gas removals, and in lower carbon technologies (which would make flying more expensive). Members wanted more engagement with the UK population, to understand the necessary changes. They wanted more parity between the cost of rail and flying, where flying is now often hugely cheaper. The committees behind the report have asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to respond before the end of the year.

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New study indicates non-CO2 impacts of aviation are twice as large as the CO2 alone

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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Draft Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill calls for international aviation to be fully included in the UK’s Net Zero target

The proposed Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE bill) which is to be tabled as a private member's bill by Caroline Lucas MP on 2nd September, would see international aviation, shipping, and consumption included properly within the UK's 2050 net zero target. These are necessary in closing the gaps in the UK's Climate Change Act (CCA), where they have been excluded in the past. The CEE bill has support from the minority parties and Labour, as well as scientists, business figures and Extinction Rebellion. Currently when the UK claims its carbon emissions have fallen, the drop is largely from switching electricity generation from coal to gas, and the arrival of more renewables. Over recent decades, carbon emissions embodied in imports have grown, as have carbon emissions from international aviation and shipping. But those are not considered under the CCA. The CEE Bill proposes legislation to address the biodiversity crisis, by placing a stronger legal requirement for the government to protect and restore forests, soils, and ecosystems so then can provider a natural means of absorbing CO2. Despite Covid, bold government action is needed in the UK, now, especially before the postponed COP26 meeting in November 2021 in Glasgow.

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Protest by opponents of Southampton airport, against the “madness” of its expansion plans

Opponents of expansion of Southampton airport took part in a protest on Saturday 29th, as did many other groups at airports across the UK.  The group say the airport should not be expanding, at a time of climate crisis, and the impact would be a needless increase in carbon emissions, from the extra flights using the airport.  They said  1. The economic case does not stack up, in jobs, house prices or health impacts.  2. The noise impacts of expansion, with many more local people negatively affected.  3. More air pollution will affect local health and mortality rates, from an increase (the airport's own figures) of 272%  in NOx emissions. 4. No figures have been provided for ultrafine particles, which could be even worse than NOx for human health.  5.  The expansion will contribute to climate change and a ‘carbon-neutral’ airport is a myth; the expansion would roughly double current carbon emissions, and the airport is only looking to offset the relatively small ground emissions, not those from flights.

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