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Greenhouse gas emissions from the international aviation industry

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A protest in the UK against the exclusion of international aviation emissions of greenhouse gases from the Climate bill. Photo:Campaign against Climate Change

Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation currently account for approximately 3.5% of emissions from developed countries. A complicating factor in developing a mitigation strategy for the sector is the impact of nitrogen oxides emissions "and the formation of condensation trails and cirrus clouds". A 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report estimated the impact of these to be "about 2 to 4 times greater than those of CO2 alone, even without considering the potential impact of cirrus cloud enhancement."[1]

In its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, the IPCC described civil aviation as being "one of the world’s fastest growing transport means."[2] The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reported that international aviation emissions from developed countries rose by 65.8% between 1990 and 2005.[3]

The IPCC determined that, based on a range of forecasts, a reasonable forecast was to adopt a "global average annual passenger traffic growth of around 5% – passenger traffic doubling in 15 years – with freight traffic growing at a faster rate that passenger traffic, although from a smaller base."[4]

The IPCC also projected in its "base" scenario that emissions from aviation, even assuming fuel efficiency gains, would rise from 489.29 million tonnes in 2002 to 1,247.02 million tonnes in 2030, an increase in emissions of over 2.5 times.[5] The IPCC reported that "assuming the historical fuel efficiency trend produced by industry developments will continue (albeit at a declining level), carbon emissions will also grow, but at a lower rate than traffic."[6]

Despite this rapid growth, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation are currently excluded from any restrictions under the Kyoto Protocol. (Domestic aviation is included in national emissions targets.)

Kyoto Protocol Provisions

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol stated in Article 2, section 2 that:

"The Parties included in Annex I shall pursue limitation or reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol from aviation and marine bunker fuels, working through the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization, respectively."[7]

In a media release International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) boasted that it had been recognized as "the global instrument for developed countries to pursue the limitation or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation." While stating that it has been taking environmental issues seriously since the late 1960's, it claimed that incorporating aviation's greenhouse emissions into the agreement was too hard. Aviation, it explained, had been excluded "because of the difficulty in allocating them to specific countries. For example, which country should be responsible for emissions involving an airline from the Americas flying over the Middle East, between a country in Europe and another in Asia?"[8]

Emissions Taking Off

The IPCC also reported that data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) revealed that "aviation scheduled traffic (revenue passenger-km, RPK) has grown at an average annual rate of 3.8% between 2001 and 2005 despite the downturn from the terrorist attacks and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) during this period, and is currently growing at 5.9% per year."[2]

The IPCC noted that Airbus and Boeing projected "passenger traffic growth trends of 5.3% and 4.9% respectively, and freight trends at 5.9% and 6.1% respectively over the next 20 or 25 years". It concluded that "these forecasts and others predict a global average annual passenger traffic growth of around 5% – passenger traffic doubling in 15 years – with freight traffic growing at a faster rate that passenger traffic, although from a smaller base."[2]

Modeling cited by the IPCC estimated that aviation emissions were approximately 492 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 2.06 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide in 2002 and will increase to 1029 and 3.31 million tonnes respectively by 2025.[2]

Mitigation Strategies

The IPCC also noted that "in order to reduce emissions from air and marine transport resulting from the combustion of bunker fuels, new policy frameworks need to be developed. However ICAO endorsed the concept of an open, international emission trading system for the air transport sector, implemented through a voluntary scheme, or incorporation of international aviation into existing emission trading systems."[9]

The IPCC also noted that ICAO had not "yet been able to devise a suitable framework for implementing effective mitigation policies."[10]

Taxtion

Aviation fuel is kerosene but the IPCC Working Group noted that at the "global level no support exists for the introduction of kerosene taxes." ICAO's policy of opposing the removal of exemption of aviation fuel from taxation has been widely criticised by the European Union and environmental groups.[11]

In late 2006 the European Union proposed that aviation emissions would be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The proposal was for emissions from all domestic and international flights between EU airports to be covered from 2011. The second stage of the proposal was for "all international flights - from or to anywhere in the world - that arrive at or depart from an EU airport" to be covered from 2012.[12]

In July 2008 the European Parliament voted 640 to 30 to include airlines in the ETS from 2012. The EU required airlines to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent in 2012 and by 5 percent from 2013 against a base year of 2004-06. Under the rules of the scheme, airlines will be given free permits to cover 85% of their emissions with the remainder auctioned.[13]

At the Accra Climate Change Talks 2008, the representative of the Pacific islad of Tuvalu, which is threatened by rising sea levels, argued that $20 a tonne levy on emissions of carbon dioxide from all international aviation and maritime transport would generate revenues of about $24 billion a year. "A levy of that level is about 0.6 percent of an airfare price," said Ian Fry of Tuvalu.[14]

Technological innovations

While options exist for increasing the fuel efficiency of aviation -- from more fuel efficient engines, design innovations in the aircraft body -- these changes have long lead times before deployment and affect only a small percentage of the airfleet. The IPCC notes that approximately 60% of aircraft are still in service after 30 years and that this "results in slower change than might be seen in other transport forms."[15]

However the IPCC's sobering conclusion was that "even the most ambitious scenario [of efficiency gains] suggests that CO2 production will increase by almost 100% from the base year ... The analysis suggests that aviation emissions will continue to grow as a result of continued demand for civil aviation. Assuming the historical fuel efficiency trend produced by industry developments will continue (albeit at a declining level), carbon emissions will also grow, but at a lower rate than traffic. Carbon pricing could effect further emissions reductions if the aviation industry introduces further technology measures in response.."[16]

U.S. GOA Casts Doubt on the technological innovations alone approach

In response to a request from Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed likely greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and possible policy responses to address the problem. The GAO cast doubt on the likelihood that reliance on technological innovation alone would make much difference by 2050. "While airlines currently rely on a range of improvements, such as fuel-efficient engines, to reduce emissions, some of which may have limited potential to generate future reductions, experts we surveyed expect a number of additional technological, operational, and alternative fuel improvements to help reduce aircraft emissions in the future. However, according to experts we interviewed, some technologies, such as advanced airframes, have potential, but may be years away from being available, and developing and adopting them is likely to be costly. In addition, according to some experts we interviewed, incentives for industry to research and adopt low-emissions technologies will be dependent to some extent on the level and stability of fuel prices," they write in a summary of thei report.[17]

"Finally, given expected growth of commercial aviation as forecasted by IPCC, even if many of these improvements are adopted, it appears unlikely they would greatly reduce emissions by 2050," they bluntly concluded.[17]

Defending Ineffectiveness

At the Accra Climate Change Talks in August 2008, ICAO organized a side event at the conference defending its performance on mitigating climate change impacts from aviation emissions. At the event it hosted, ICAO had the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation discussing "how efficiency in the skies reduces GHG emissions", ICAO itself presenting the story of the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA) on the "role of technology" and the International Air Transport Association on "airlines as the focus of attention in the climate change debate".[18]

Negotiations on Inclusion of Aviation Emissions Ahead of COP 15

On the opening day of the Accra Climate Change Talks 2008, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin noted that "parties have expressed strong differences on inclusion of aviation and maritime emissions under the Protocol, with the EU, Norway and others supporting more discussions on this topic under the UNFCCC process, while others have noted that the issue is also being addressed under the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization."[19] (See Greenhouse gas emissions from the international maritime industry for more details on maritime emissions.)

Early on at the COP14 conference, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) noted that the International Civil Aviation Organization had briefed delegates. "Chair Plume will prepare conclusions and said the item would be taken up in more detail at SBSTA 32", it reported. (SBSTA is the acronym for the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice.)[20]

However, little progress was made with the SBSTA meekly noting only that "the SBSTA invited the secretariats of ICAO and IMO to report, at future sessions of the SBSTA, on the outcomes of their work on this issue."[21]

Oxfam proposals for additional funding

A December 2008 report published by Oxfam International proposed that $12.4 billion in new funding for the Adaptation Fund could be obtained by 2015 (assuming a carbon price of $45 per ton) by establishing an emission target for flights originating in Annex I countries.[22]

Citing UNCTAD data, Oxfam reported that approximately 65% of global aviation emissions "can be attributed to international flights originating in Annex I countries." It proposed that an emissions trading scheme for the sector could operate on the basis of emissions cap for the sector with emissions allowances auctioned off to generate revenue. "Since aircraft operators register the amount of jet fuel purchased per international flight, it is possible to estimate the level of emissions attributed to international flights originating in Annex 1 countries ... Airlines would have to purchase one emissions allowance for every ton of CO2 emitted," it proposed.[23]

However, one complication of such a scheme is the potential impact on developing countries that are heavily dependent on tourism, which it noted can account for as much as 40% of some countries Gross Domestic Product. To limit the impact on these countries Oxfam proposed that "a deminimis threshold could be established to exempt flights travelling to non-Annex 1 countries that depend on the tourism industry. For instance, if a threshold of 30 per cent of GDP accounting for air travel and tourism is used, this will primarily exempt small island states, with an impact on emissions coverage at less than one per cent of total emissions.44 Other thresholds could also be negotiated. Most importantly the threshold should recognise that economic activities from developing countries are not unduly burdened, as developing countries are not responsible for causing climate change in the first place.[23]

Oxfam also flagged that how such as a scheme would be administered was a potential complication as "the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has resisted attempts to regulate emissions or to generate financing through the sector, and hence it seems unlikely that the body would enforce a global market-based system or levy."[24]

COP15 Proposals

At COP15, the division over best to proceed in responding to rising emissions from aviation and maritime emissions continued. In brief reports to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, both International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) touted their recent announcements about plans to address the sectors emissions. Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported that China argued that any action affecting these sectors should be consistent with the "common but differentiated responsibilities" embodied in the Kyoto Protocol. The Bahamas supported both ICAO and the IMO remaining the agencies responsible for addressing the sectors emissions.[25]

The chair of the committee, Helen Plume, drafted a proposal to simply defer consideration of the issue to a future meeting. The draft resolution simply noted the reports of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) "on their ongoing work on emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport" and proposed that "the secretariats of ICAO and IMO to report, at future sessions of the SBSTA, on relevant work on this issue."[26]

Outcomes of Copenhagen Conference

Ahead of the COP15 conference, a small number of countries were involved in the drafting of the Danish text. In it it was proposed that "an effective mitigation response includes reduction of emissions from international bunker fuels. The Parties therefore commit to set and implement a global emission reduction target for international shipping equal to [x]% in 2020 compared to [2005] and a global emission reduction target for international aviation equal to [y]% in 2020 compared to [2005]. The Parties shall work through the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization to take this issue forward and secure a timely implementation of actions needed."[27]

The text also proposed that one source of funds should be to "global financing contributions from international aviation and international maritime transport generated through instruments developed and implemented by the ICAO and IMO respectively should be channeled through the Climate Fund from [2013], [mainly for adaption purposes], taking into account the principle of common but differentiated responsibility."[27]

Subsequently, Obama negotiated a minimalist Copenhagen Accord which omitted any mention of reducing emissions from the aviation or maritime sectors.

For its part, ICAO sought to turn the outcome to its advantage by claiming that it was already taking tough action. In e media release ICAO stated that it "continues to move forward with its aggressive plan of action to combat climate change even though a deal on bunker (international aviation and maritime) fuels was not reached" at COP15.[28]

NGOs working on Aviation and Greenhouse Issues

Articles and resources

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References

  1. Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, Shigeki Kobayashi, Michel Beuthe, Jorge Gasca, David Greene, David S. Lee, Yasunori Muromachi, Peter J. Newton, Steven Plotkin, Daniel Sperling, Ron Wit and Peter J. Zhou, "Transport and its infrastructure" in "IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change", Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, pages 376.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, Shigeki Kobayashi, Michel Beuthe, Jorge Gasca, David Greene, David S. Lee, Yasunori Muromachi, Peter J. Newton, Steven Plotkin, Daniel Sperling, Ron Wit and Peter J. Zhou, "Transport and its infrastructure" in "IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change", Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, pages 334.
  3. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, "National greenhouse gas inventory data for the period 1990–2005", December 2007, page 13.
  4. "Transport and its infrastructure", Chapter 5: Transport and its infrastructure, 2007, page 12.
  5. "Table 5.13: Summaries of CO2 mitigation potential analysis in aviation", Chapter 5: Transport and its infrastructure, 2007, page 43.
  6. "Transport and its infrastructure", IPCC, 2007, page 42.
  7. "Kyoto Protocol To the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change", United Nations, 1998, page 3.
  8. International Civil Aviation Organization, "Kyoto Protocol Emphasizes ICAO's Role in Addressing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from International Aviation", International Civil Aviation Organization website, Media Release, December 12, 1997.
  9. Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, Shigeki Kobayashi, Michel Beuthe, Jorge Gasca, David Greene, David S. Lee, Yasunori Muromachi, Peter J. Newton, Steven Plotkin, Daniel Sperling, Ron Wit and Peter J. Zhou, "Transport and its infrastructure" in "IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change", Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, page 327.
  10. Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, Shigeki Kobayashi, Michel Beuthe, Jorge Gasca, David Greene, David S. Lee, Yasunori Muromachi, Peter J. Newton, Steven Plotkin, Daniel Sperling, Ron Wit and Peter J. Zhou, "Transport and its infrastructure" in "IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change", Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, page 375.
  11. Charles Alcock, "ICAO extends jet fuel tax exemption, for now", AINOnline, November 1, 2004.
  12. European Commission, "Aviation and climate change", Europa, June 5, 2008.
  13. "Aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme", Reuters, August 1, 2008.
  14. Alister Doyle, "UN climate talks split over deforestation funds", Reuters, August 22, 2008.
  15. Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, Shigeki Kobayashi, Michel Beuthe, Jorge Gasca, David Greene, David S. Lee, Yasunori Muromachi, Peter J. Newton, Steven Plotkin, Daniel Sperling, Ron Wit and Peter J. Zhou, "Transport and its infrastructure" in "IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change", Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, page 353.
  16. Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, Shigeki Kobayashi, Michel Beuthe, Jorge Gasca, David Greene, David S. Lee, Yasunori Muromachi, Peter J. Newton, Steven Plotkin, Daniel Sperling, Ron Wit and Peter J. Zhou, "Transport and its infrastructure" in "IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change", Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, page 364.
  17. 17.0 17.1 U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Aviation and Climate Change: Aircraft Emissions Expected to Grow, but Technological and Operational Improvements and Government Policies Can Help Control Emissions", GAO-09-554, June 8, 2009.
  18. International Civil Aviation Organization, "Aviation actions and initiatives on climate change", Media Release, August 23, 2008.
  19. "Third session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA 3) and the sixth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol: Thursday, 21 August 2008", Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Volume 12 Number 377, August 22, 2008.
  20. "COP14 Highlights December 2, 2008", Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Volume 12 Number 387, December 3, 2008.
  21. Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, Agenda item 7 (c): Methodological issues under the Convention: Emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport", UNFCCC, December 6, 2008.
  22. Oxfam International, Turning Carbon into Gold: How the international community can finance climate change adaptation without breaking the bank, December 2008, pages 2-3. (Pdf)
  23. 23.0 23.1 Oxfam International, Turning Carbon into Gold: How the international community can finance climate change adaptation without breaking the bank, December 2008, pages 12-13. (Pdf)
  24. Oxfam International, Turning Carbon into Gold: How the international community can finance climate change adaptation without breaking the bank, December 2008, pages 14. (Pdf)
  25. "Copenhagen Highlights: Saturday, 12 December 2009", Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Volume 12 Number 450 - Wednesday, 9 December 2009.
  26. Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, "Emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport: Draft conclusions proposed by the Chair", December 10, 2009.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Copy of the leaked draft of the "Danish text". This was originally published on the website of the Guardian, accessed December 2009.
  28. ICAO Forging Ahead With Plans to Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions from International Aviation", Media Rleease, December 21, 2009.

External Resources

External articles

International Air Transport Association Media Releases on Global Warming

European Federation for Transport and Environment materials

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