Climate Change News

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

The Covid-19 crisis should be the catalyst for “greening” the world’s airlines

The Covid pandemic provides a vital opportunity to reduce the scale of the aviation sector, and its carbon emissions.  Any rescue packages for airlines or airports need to come with "green" strings, such as lower CO2 emissions and more efficient taxation, to cut demand for air travel.  As oil prices are so low, there is the danger that air tickets will be cheap, once flying resumes - even if airlines can only sell a % of their seats, due to "social distancing."  The sector has enjoyed low taxes for too long. It is time jet fuel was properly taxed, especially on domestic routes - where there is direct competition with rail travel.  The Covid crisis has weakened airline claims that they should be treated as profit-seeking independent companies rather than public entities with social responsibilities. European governments have probably agreed €12.7bn in bailouts, with another €17.1bn under discussion. Even before Covid the airline industry was feeling public pressure from “the Greta effect”, "flying shame", Extinction Rebellion and the Appeal Court decision to block Heathrow expansion on climate grounds.  The CO2 from aviation needs to be incorporated fully into national climate targets.

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Greenpeace activists occupy a Schiphol runway to protest coronavirus aid to polluting aviation sector

Greenpeace activists occupied a runway at Schiphol airport on 14th May morning, to protest against the billion €s in support going to the aviation sector during the coronavirus crisis. Greenpeace wants strict sustainability conditions to be attached to this aid.  The Koninklijke Marechaussee, a policing force that works as part of the Dutch military and is responsible for airport security, said it would detain the 11 Greenpeace activists who were protesting, and remove them from the Aalsmeerbaan runway at Schiphol. The runway is currently being used to park KLM planes. They brought a small bridge with them to get across the ditch that separates the public road from the secured area at Schiphol, and bicycles to get to the runway as quickly as possible. Greenpeace said: "KLM emits more CO2 than the largest coal-fired power station in the Netherlands." The government should only give KLM funding if it has to cut carbon emissions. This has to be done by more fuel efficiency, fewer flights, and short haul flights replaced by train journeys. Greenpeace also wants conditions attached to aid for other major polluters.

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Boris says in Parliament “Aviation, like every other sector, must keep its carbon lower” post-Covid

Caroline Lucas asked: "Last week, climate experts reported that green economic recovery packages deliver far higher returns than conventional stimulus spending. They also warned that how we emerge from this coronavirus crisis must not be in a way that deepens the climate and nature emergencies. Does the Prime Minister agree? Will he commit to action that will help us to build back better, and start by confirming that any airline queuing up for a taxpayer handout must be required to meet robust climate goals?" Boris Johnson replied:  "I think the best and shortest answer I can give to the hon. Lady is that we totally understand the situation with aviation. Clearly, inadvertently this year the planet will greatly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, and she is absolutely right that we need to entrench those gains. I do not want to see us going back to an era of the same type of emissions as we have had in the past. Aviation, like every other sector, must keep its carbon lower. We are certainly working on technological solutions to ensure that we can do that."

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European Commission will keep intra-European aviation within the ETS, as well as being in the ICAO’s CORSIA scheme

ICAO's planned global scheme for offsetting emissions from international flights will supplement, not replace, the European Union carbon market, the EU’s transport commissioner has now said. With the United Nations (ICAO) planning a 2021 launch of CORSIA, clarity is needed that the European Commission will not remove aviation from the EU emissions trading system (ETS). Transport Commissioner, Adian Valean said:  “CORSIA will not put the ETS at stake. It will not replace the ETS. It will complement the ETS.”  The ETS only covers flights between European countries, not outside Europe. It is a more effective scheme, in incentivising lower carbon emissions, than CORSIA - which is very weak. But ICAO wants the EU to remove these flights from its carbon market so that CORSIA can be the only market-based measure tackling international aviation emissions. The Commission, the 27-nation EU’s executive is assessing how the two systems will co-exist.  It is important that EU flights outside Europe are in the CORSIA scheme, and Europe participates - otherwise other countries may also decide not to take part.

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Leeds Bradford airport submits plans for new terminal building & more passengers (4m to 7m a year) despite Covid fall in demand.

The airport has submitted a planning application to Leeds City Council, to replace the current terminal building with a new one by 2023, to increase passenger numbers from 4 million a year to 7 million a year. Opponents to the plans say that will make the climate emergency "worse" and that the current pandemic means there's "no need" for it. Local people, in Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA) say the expansion will increase CO2 emissions, at a time when countries around the world are being urged to drastically then. It will also bring more noise for local communities, increased air pollution, and more traffic congestion. Instead "We need to rebuild a healthy economy in Leeds. We don’t need an unsustainable development like this.” Leeds City Council  declared a climate emergency in 2019, but conveniently does not include the CO2 emissions from the airport's flights in its carbon budget. But the flights alone would exceed Leeds’ entire carbon budget by 2035. The airport is trying hard to persuade the Council that its expansion is needed, in competition with Manchester, and the (alleged) economic benefits it would bring would be huge. 

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EPA proposes first-ever CO2 standard for new planes, but it is unlikely to be stringent enough

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sent a proposed rule on a standard to cut greenhouse gas emissions from new airplanes to the White House for review. This is years overdue.  The US has never regulated CO2 emissions from planes, in part because the aviation sector was omitted from major international climate agreements, including Kyoto and Paris.  The EPA hasn’t released. Tiny efficiency gains are eclipsed by the growth in the number of flights and air passengers.  Daniel Rutherford, shipping and aviation director at the ICCT said the CO2 standard for new planes is so plane makers can sell their new planes internationally in future.  But the aviation sector tends to introduce so-called ‘technology-following standards,’ so instead of looking ahead and setting new targets for technology, it tends to say, ‘OK, let’s see what’s already developed and see that it’s deployed in all aircraft.' What might have been groundbreaking a decade ago, is now just what most planes can already achieve. Huge lack of ambition.

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Airbus and Rolls-Royce have ended a joint venture to produce a hybrid-electric airliner test model

It seems the plans for a (pie-in-the-sky) electric plane before too long are even more remote than they were before ... Airbus and Rolls-Royce have ended a joint venture to produce a hybrid-electric airliner testbed that could have paved the way for electric aircraft of the future.  [A testbed aircraft is an aeroplane, helicopter or other kind of aircraft intended for flight research or testing the aircraft concepts or on-board equipment. These could be specially designed or modified from serial production aircraft.]  The aim was to replace or or two of four jet engines with an electric engine. There is an unrealistic hope in the industry, and by some politicians, that aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers on their holiday etc trips will, in the not too distant future, be able to fly just on electricity. The reality is that, at best, there might be planes that can carry rather few passengers for rather short distances.  Electric planes will NOT be able to substitute for planes like A320s now, travelling over 1,000 miles.  The joint venture presumably was not sufficiently successful that the companies felt the need to continue with it. They did manage to produce a keg-sized 2.5MW generator, smaller than produced before.

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TAN launches legal bid to stop UK government roads building plans – on climate grounds

The UK government’s £28.8 billion plan to expand Britain’s road network is set to be challenged in the courts. Lawyers Leigh Day, acting for Transport Action Network (TAN) have asked the DfT and Highways England to scrap their 5-year road building plan. The pre-action protocol letter was sent to the DfT on 9th April. This is partly on the grounds that it is not compatible with the UK's commitments under the Paris Agreement, and also breaches air quality legislation.  TAN have retained the services of David Wolfe QC of Matrix chambers and Pete Lockley of 11 KBW, who won in the Heathrow case back in February, on the same climate grounds, of ignoring the Paris Agreement.  The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, launched the Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) in March, and it was described as England’s “largest ever” roads programme, and Tory manifesto pledge to spend on strategic roads. Spending money on more, bigger roads just acts to lock in future carbon emissions, by increasing road vehicle trips.  TAN launched a £38,000 crowdfunder on April 21 to pay for the legal challenge.

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Austrian government would like any Austrian Airlines state bailout to be linked to climate targets and lower CO2 emissions in future

Austria's environment minister has said that Coronavirus state aid for Austrian Airlines should support efforts to cut aviation’s carbon footprint, as the government negotiates with the firm’s German parent company, Lufthansa.  Any aid should be used to cut carbon emissions, as it is public money, and needs to be used wisely. Austrian Airlines has grounded all planes. “When it is about an industry that particularly needs to contribute to climate protection, then it makes a lot of sense to use this situation to support this transformation,” the minister said.  Europe’s airlines are struggling to keep their heads above water, as virus lockdown measures slash demand for air travel. According to the IATA,  latest estimates are that global losses for the airline sector this year will nearly reach €300 billion.  Airlines are trying to get state aid, to bail them out, hoping they can get back to being profitable as soon as possible.  It is unclear what specific climate conditions could be written into a bailout deal but options reportedly include a pledge to reduce short-haul flights, increased cooperation with rail companies, more low carbon fuels [if they exist] and bigger tax contributions.

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Coronavirus: plane-free skies spur research into non-CO2 warming impact of aviation eg. contrails

As the Covid-19 pandemic response decimates air traffic, it provides a unique opportunity for scientists to study how planes’ contrails trap heat in the atmosphere. It is the chance to study how much aviation increases global warming.  The dramatic fall in air traffic is the largest since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Scientists with Nasa and European research groups hope to use clear skies to narrow down massive uncertainties about the warming effect of condensation trails. The science of how much added warming is caused by the contrails (and other non-CO2 impacts of aviation) is complex and more research is needed. But it is likely that the overall impact of aviation on climate is about double that of the CO2 alone. It is perhaps 4-5% of the global total of human climate impact. Researchers will use satellites and measurements by planes to study how clouds form naturally when thousands of flights are grounded in the absence of aircraft. Would clouds have formed anyway, in the absence of planes? However, there are problems with Covid-19 social distancing, in assembling teams of technicians to install sensors on planes and find pilots to fly them.

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