Climate Change News

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

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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Biofuels (including for aviation) to drive massive increase in palm and soy demand by 2030

A new report by Rainforest Foundation Norway looks at the impact of global biofuel policies on tropical deforestation. Palm oil and soy, in particular, are biofuel feedstocks that are associated with high deforestation risk. The report analyses biofuel policies in all key markets and assesses. It found the impact on demand for palm oil and soy-based biofuels in the coming decade will be huge, and may rise by over 60 million more tonnes of palm oil by 2030. That is about 90% of current global palm oil production. The demand for soy oil might rise by over 40 million tonnes, about 75% of current production. This would cause an estimated 7 million hectares of deforestation, including up to 3.6 million hectares of peat drainage. There would be tragic loss of biodiversity, including charismatic species like orang utans. The deforestation would cause over 11 billion tonnes of extra CO2 entering the atmosphere, by 2030 (more than China's annual CO2 emissions). The aviation industry is potentially the largest consumer of high deforestation risk biofuels, followed by Indonesia and Brazil. The world is in a dual ecological crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss.  This use of biofuels is NOT the answer, to either crisis.

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Leeds Bradford Airport expansion could now be in doubt – if the landmark Heathrow climate case can be used against it

The ruling on Heathrow's 3rd runway on 27th February, by the Court of Appeal, put the scheme seriously in doubt - on the grounds of its carbon emissions. The DfT had decided not to take proper account of the extra carbon emissions, in relation to the UK's commitments under the Paris Agreement, when it produced the Airports National Policy Statement . The ruling is ground-breaking, because it sets a global precedent that can now be used to challenge other developments which damage the environment. The expansion plans of Leeds Bradford would result in a possible increase in passengers from about 4 million per year now to about 7 million. This means the plans are not considered large enough to require the National Policy Statement and DCO route. Instead the application goes through the usual planning process. So the Heathrow ruling may not have a direct bearing on this case, though the principle of the need to properly account for carbon emissions from new developments, may be used to argue against it if it went to appeal. Leeds has declared a climate emergency, and its local Citizens' Assembly resolved that the airport should not expand, due to its carbon emissions.

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Gatwick expansion – up to 15 mppa more – using main runway should be subject to planning controls

Gatwick airport intends to expand its number of flights and air passengers, both by increasing numbers on its current runway, and then also by moving its emergency runway slightly north by a few metres, so it can take more flights. The change of the emergency runway would require a Development Consent Order (DCO) as there would be more than 10 million annual passengers, and building work is needed. The increased use of the main runway could add another 15 million annual passengers, which should necessitate going through the DCO process, but as almost no building work is needed, Gatwick is aiming to by-pass this, and make the increases just through permitted development rights. The joint campaign coalition, "Gatwick's Big Enough" (GBE) wrote to the councils in areas affected by Gatwick on this matter. They have received a reply, that the councils believe there is little they can do about the expansion on the main runway, as there are no mechanisms under current planning law to require the airport to submit a planning application. GBE is taking legal advice on the matter. The Appeal Court ruling on the Heathrow runway and ANPS, about the need to take carbon emissions into account, may be helpful here.

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GACC welcomes the judgement by the Court of Appeal that ANPS was unlawful – that would also apply at Gatwick

GACC (Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) welcomes the judgement by the Court of Appeal that the Government’s Airports National Policy (ANPS) was unlawful, as it failed to take into account the Government’s commitment to the provisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The ANPS was an important and relevant consideration in respect of applications for new runway capacity and other airport infrastructure elsewhere in London and the South East. GACC believes the Court’s decision therefore raises the bar for all airport expansion decisions. It is good news for communities impacted by any UK airport that wants to expand, and for our environment more widely. For Gatwick the Court’s decision, if confirmed by the Supreme Court, has important implications, as the climate impacts of a new Gatwick runway would be similar to those of Heathrow. Also if Gatwick tries to make greater use of its existing runway, adding another 50,000 annual flights, and another 12 million annual passengers, would be a huge increase in carbon emissions. This would be clearly contrary to the Government’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. 

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