Author Archives: Annie Petsonk

To understand airplanes’ climate pollution, a picture is worth a thousand words

Thousands of words have been written this week about a new efficiency standard recommended by a technical group of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The standard, if adopted by ICAO’s executive council, is intended to require aircraft manufacturers to start producing more efficient airplanes.

But one picture makes clear that even with the new efficiency standard, international aviation still has a huge gap between its anticipated emissions and its own environmental goals.

Graph of aviation's emissions gap

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

The top of the upsloping curve shows how international aviation’s emissions are slated to skyrocket in coming years.

The horizontal red line toward the bottom, labeled “Emissions Cap at 2020 levels,” shows the industry’s own goal of “carbon-neutral growth from 2020.” ICAO has also embraced this goal.

The area below the top of the curve and above the horizontal red line at 2020 is the total amount of emissions that international aviation must deal with to meet this goal.

This week, ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) recommended that ICAO’s Executive Council adopt, at its next meeting in June, a carbon dioxide efficiency standard for aircraft, akin to a fuel economy standard for cars. That’s a step in the right direction.

But how big a slice will this new standard take out of international aviation’s skyrocketing emissions? At best, that’s the blue sliver shown in this picture. (The red sliver aviation hopes to cut through “operational improvements” like better air traffic control.)

That leaves a huge “Emissions Gap” – shown in green – about 7.8 billion tonnes of carbon pollution that international aviation will have to deal with to meet its own climate goals, let alone the kinds of reductions that will be needed if the sector is to bring emissions down to the dashed red arrow, along the lines of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The industry has a long way to go to make carbon pollution go down, not up.

ICAO’s pledged to finalize, this September, a global market-based measure (MBM) with offsetting to drive industry’s net emissions down to the 2020 cap. President Obama has made climate action a centerpiece of his legacy. Success in cutting aviation emissions could help – but that will only happen if the Obama administration takes the lead in the intensive talks now underway in ICAO.

The picture is clear: While the aircraft standard will help, the Administration now needs to keep its eyes on the prize the ICAO decision on the market-based measure in September.

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International action on aviation emissions: What's at stake in ICAO

If international aviation were a country, it would be a top ten emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), on par with Germany or the United Kingdom. And it’s expected to grow enormously: with more than 50,000 new large aircraft slated to take to the skies, its emissions are expected to triple or quadruple by 2040.

In Paris in December 2015, the world hailed the success of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in adopting the first broadly applicable instrument to start driving carbon pollution down, with a goal of limiting warming to 1.5-2° C.

But Paris didn’t cover pollution from flights between countries. Why not? Because in 1997, aviation lobbied for, and got, the UNFCCC to defer these to another UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

ICAO talked about the issue for fifteen years until 2013, when, with Europe poised to enforce a cap on emissions of inbound/outbound flights, ICAO pledged to act by 2016. Quiet talks are now underway on:

  1. An ICAO CO2 standard for aircraft – akin to a miles-per-gallon standard for cars. In Montreal next week, possibly as early as Monday, February 8, 2016, a technical group is expected to agree a recommendation for this standard.
  1. A cap on international aviation’s total CO2 emissions at 2020 levels. ICAO is slated to vote in September 2016, on the cap and a market-based measure (MBM) to help airlines implement it.

Here’s what’s at stake:

Caption

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

Without any new rules, international aviation’s carbon pollution is expected to skyrocket (top red line). Better air traffic control can trim some pollution (top red wedge). An ambitious CO2 standard would mean fewer emissions per passenger-mile, further slowing the sector’s emissions growth (blue wedge). But because the industry’s overall emissions are expected to far outstrip these per-trip efficiency gains, there’s still a huge gap (green triangle) – at least 6-8 billion tonnes – to get to the goal of an emissions cap at 2020 levels (red horizontal line), or even more ambitious goals along the lines of the Paris agreement (red dashed line).

The real prize is the market-based measure to cap aviation emissions and drive pollution down, not up.

Learn more at edf.org/aviation.

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Aviation emissions deal: ICAO takes one step forward, half step back

ICAO's decision today on aviation emissions offers the prospect of the world's first carbon cap on an entire global sector.

The United Nations agency for aviation today launched a three-year effort to achieve a global market-based measure to cap the climate pollution of international aviation.

After nights of lavish receptions – a testament to the financial robustness of international aviation – delegates finally got down to the hard work of negotiating a resolution on how ICAO will tackle the climate change issue.

The decision by the 191 countries in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop a measure to limit the emissions of international civil aviation offers the prospect of the world's first carbon cap on an entire global sector.

Last night, we said the proposal – which was adopted around noon today – amounted to “one step forward, half a step back."  Here’s what we meant.

 One step forward, half a step back

The decision by the 38th General Assembly to develop, by 2016, a global market-based measure capping international aviation’s carbon pollution at 2020 levels is a step forward on the path to averting dangerous climate change. If it were a country, aviation would rank in the world’s top ten largest emitters, and it is one of the fastest growing sources of global warming pollution.

With this decision, ICAO has opened a door to the possibility of a future global cap on these emissions and an array of programs – including a market-based measure sought by both the industry and the environmental community – to ensure that the cap is met.

However, a bedrock principle of international law is that nations have the sovereign right to limit pollution emitted in their borders. So, ICAO’s attempt to narrow the ambit for countries to implement their own market-based measures to cap and cut the burgeoning global warming pollution from international aviation pushed it half a step back.

Differences erupt in waning hours

Deep differences between and among countries erupted in the waning hours at the just-concluded Assembly, including disagreements about how and even whether to complete this task.  At several points the meeting seemed destined to disintegrate.

An acrimonious vote on whether countries could bring aviation emissions under their national emissions trading system nearly caused the meeting to disintegrate.

In the end delegates agreed 1) nations should seek the agreement of other nations before imposing their market-based measures on flights from those other nations; and 2) such national market-based measures should exempt flights to and from nations whose flag carriers hold less than 1% share of the global market, measured in “revenue-ton-kilometers.”

Next steps

Remember – this decision is only a first step, but it is an important one because it provides a path forward for a cap on the aviation sector.

Now it’s time to shift to the hard work of designing the global market-based mechanism and getting 191 countries to agree to it.

Intensive efforts will be needed to make ICAO’s promise a reality. It’s not the time to let up, and ICAO can’t be let off the hook.

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Bloomberg-EDF analysis: Mandates plus markets could make airlines' emissions goals readily affordable

The aviation industry can affordably meet and beat its goal of halting carbon emissions growth from 2020 if it uses high-quality, low-cost carbon offsets, according to a new analysis from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Airlines’ goal of “carbon-neutral growth from 2020” could be so readily affordable that governments justifiably could hold airlines to a much tighter emissions target. Image source

Our analysis comes on the heels of a consolidated industry call for the governments of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to commit, at their next triennial September meeting, to adopt a mandatory global program to limit aviation’s carbon pollution by 2016 at the latest.

While forecasts are inherently uncertain, best estimates indicate that while new technologies, operations and infrastructure can help industry dampen emissions growth, substantial increases in aviation emissions are likely after 2020. Consequently, to meet their proposed mandatory goal of "carbon-neutral growth from 2020," it is very likely that airlines will need some kind of carbon offsetting mechanism.

An offset mechanism that limits credit supply to high-quality carbon units currently available and expected to come on-line in the future, could let airlines meet their emissions target at very modest cost. If governments adopt tough criteria ensuring that offsets represent real reductions in net carbon emissions, and if industry moves swiftly to capture those carbon units, the costs to airlines could be quite low – e.g., less than 0.5% of projected total international airline revenue in 2015, and less than a third of the fees airlines collected last year for checked bags, legroom and snacks.

In the current round of talks, the aviation industry is asking governments to mandate caps on airlines’ emissions at 2020 levels. Our analysis finds that a well-designed, high-integrity carbon offset program would make carbon-neutral growth from 2020 so affordable, that governments justifiably could hold airlines to a much tighter emissions target. That could mean putting back on the table a target the industry had proposed several years ago, namely cutting emissions 50% by 2050.

As my report co-author, Bloomberg New Energy Finance chief economist Guy Turner, said:

These findings show that the international aviation sector can control its CO2 emissions easily and cheaply by using market based mechanisms. The relatively small cost and ability to pass any costs through into ticket prices, should encourage the international aviation sector to accelerate and deepen its emission reduction pledges. More ambitious emission reductions now look much more doable, than mere stabilization from 2020.

Our analysis offers context to the costs of such a global market-based mechanism using offsets with strong environmental integrity, which the aviation industry called on ICAO last month to adopt to keep the industry’s net emissions stable from 2020 on. Such an offset program would allow the airlines to meet their emissions targets by both making emissions cuts within the aviation sector, and drawing on offsets that represent real emission cuts in other sectors.

Blog-exclusive addendum: effect on ticket prices

A well-designed global offset program, using high-quality offsets that represent real reductions in emissions, could add only a few dollars to a typical international fare:

  • From Paris (CDG) to Beijing (PEK): $1.90 – $3.00
  • From Paris (CDG) to Delhi (DEL): $1.50-$2.30
  • From Paris (CDG) to Cape Town (CPT): $2.40-$3.70
  • From Paris (CDG) to Buenos Aires (EZE): $2.70-$4.30
  • From New York (JFK) to Buenos Aires (EZE): $2.10-$3.20

Read more in our press release and the full BNEF-EDF analysis, Carbon-Neutral Growth for Aviation: At What Price?

Posted in Aviation, Emissions trading & markets, News| 3 Responses

Mind the gap: Airlines can't meet emissions reductions goals without global market-based measure, report finds

Greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes are no small matter: if the aviation industry were a country, it would be the seventh largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world – and a new report shows us the worst is yet to come.

The report released today out of Manchester Metropolitan University shows international aviation emissions are projected to increase by anywhere from a substantial 50% to a whopping 500%, and that means the aviation industry won’t be able to get anywhere near meeting its own modest commitments to reducing its emissions – unless it adopts a global market-based measure.

The aviation industry has voluntarily committed to achieve no net increase in emissions from 2020 onward and to halve its emissions by 2050 from its 2005 levels through, it says, efficiency improvements including improved air traffic management, on-board technologies and biofuels.

However, the study, from Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of Centre for Aviation, Transport, and the Environment (CATE) David Lee, Ph.D., shows emissions from the sector are projected to roughly triple, and make it impossible for airlines to meet their own commitments. Even with speculatively optimistic scenarios for such efficiency improvements, Lee found:

 None of the measures, or their combinations, for any growth scenario managed to meet the 2020 carbon-neutral goal, the 2005 stabilization of emissions goal, or the 2005-10% stabilization of emissions goal at 2050.

The maximum reductions over [business-as-usual] technology and operational improvements were clearly achieved by the extension of the existing [market-based measures] out to 2050. (page 22)

This means the aviation industry is now facing a huge gap between emissions it can reduce through efficiency improvements and its goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020.

Just take a look at this telling figure from Lee's report, which shows that even under the most optimistic technological scenarios for improving the efficiency of international aviation, emissions for the years 2006-2050 are expected to increase dramatically:

As Figure A1 from the report shows, even under the most optimistic technological scenarios for improving the efficiency of international aviation, emissions for the years 2006-2050 are expected to increase dramatically. The most aggressive uptake of operational and other technologies as well as biofuels still yields a yawning gap between projected emissions (lower boundary of green shaded area) and the emissions targets on the table, whether those are the targets proposed by governments (horizontal pink lines) or by the industry itself (horizontal grey ladder). Source

So, how can the aviation industry bridge the gap?

Industry spokespeople assert that from 2021, this gap could be filled through a market-based measure. However, the industry also seems to want to delay developing any serious global market-based approach until the gap is looming to be filled.

Lee sees the handwriting on the wall: there is no other way to fill the emissions gap than market-based measures. Our European colleagues at Transport & Environment agree, saying:

The only remaining means to bridge this emissions gap would be to extend market based measures like emissions trading on a global basis.

This measure already has support from EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, as well, who said last week in a trip to the United States, that that "we of course want a global, market-based mechanism" for reducing aviation emissions.

The gap will need to be filled, and the time to construct the gap-filling mechanism is now. Lee’s study makes crystal clear the futility of waiting until 2021 to construct the market-based measure, as the airlines have advocated. If airlines simply delay dealing with the issue until 2021, when demand for gap-fillers takes off, they risk substantially higher prices for filling those gaps. And in an industry famous for its thin profit margins, delay – and its attendant higher costs – really isn’t a welcome option.

Airlines that want the flexibility to determine how best to meet the gap – for example, those that want to begin saving emissions now, in order to draw on those reductions for the future – ought to throw their weight behind the development of a global market-based mechanism in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Airlines, countries — including the United States – and environmental groups have all agreed aviation emissions should be addressed in ICAO, so we’ll be looking to the Administration to reach a global agreement, and to reach it quickly.

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Senate-passed bill puts pressure on U.S. Administration, ICAO to limit aviation emissions

I want to tell you what happened over the weekend while no one was looking.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill early Saturday that gives the Administration unheard-of authority to ban U.S. companies from complying with another country’s law. (Photo credit: Flickr user WallyG)

At a few minutes before 2 a.m. on Saturday, just after the U.S. Senate wrapped up its wrangling over the latest funding resolution, a rather extraordinary bill was passed by the Senate.

If the bill is enacted, it would appear to be the first time in our nation's history that Congress has given sweeping authority to a cabinet member to prohibit U.S. companies from complying with the duly enacted law of another nation – and on top of that, to bail out firms that do comply or that get hit with penalties if they don't.

There are only a very few instances in America's recent history in which Congress has prohibited U.S. companies from complying with the laws of other nations. The purpose of those laws is to prevent U.S. firms from being used to implement policies of other nations that run counter to U.S. policy; they include the prohibitions on doing business in South Africa during the period of apartheid, and the anti-boycott laws, which prohibit U.S. firms from furthering boycotts of one country by another, and nowadays cover the Arab League boycott of Israel.

So, what action by a foreign nation was so odious that the Senate found it necessary to give a Cabinet secretary authority to prohibit U.S. firms from complying with it – and to bail U.S. firms out of any costs they might incur from it?

The bill that got through the Senate Saturday morning gives the Secretary of Transportation authority to prohibit U.S. airlines from complying with a European law requiring airplanes that land or take off from European airports to account for and limit their flights’ global warming pollution through an emissions trading system.

The bill also requires the Secretary of Transportation to hold the airlines "harmless" – meaning bail them out – of any costs, including both the costs of complying with the European law, estimated to be trivial, and the costs of not complying (the latter could be steep).

Aviation is already the world's seventh largest polluter, and if emissions from the industry are left unregulated, they're expected to quadruple by 2050.

With the passage of the Senate bill, the spotlight now zooms onto the Administration, in particular the Secretary of Transportation, and the talks at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to reach a global agreement to limit aviation emissions — and to reach it quickly. 

Below are some questions we have received on this bill, and my responses.

What is it in the European law that runs so counter to U.S. policy that it justifies this drastic action?

The airlines argue that the law violates U.S. sovereignty because the law holds airlines accountable for the entire pollution of the flights – even pollution occurring in the airspace over the sovereign territory of the United States.

But the fact that the European law applies to the entirety of the flight cannot be the reason it is counter to U.S. policy.

In fact, it's expressly the policy of the United States to apply our laws to a whole host of issues through the entirety of flights coming in and out of the U.S. – including portions of flights wholly over foreign sovereign territory.  U.S. laws governing everything from security screening, to banning liquids and gels, to barring gambling apply to flights landing and taking off from U.S. airports, including the portions of the flights occurring in and over foreign lands.

Could the reason the European law is so counter to U.S. policy be that, as the U.S. airlines allege, it's a tax?

The law does require flights landing or taking off from European airports to hold sufficient pollution allowances to cover the amount of pollution coming out of the backs of their engines, and if they don't have enough allowances, they can buy them from European governments.

But it can't be that flight taxes per se are objectionable to the U.S. government. After all, Congress makes every traveler coming in and out of the United States pay a $16.70 international departure and arrival tax.

The aviation industry is world's seventh largest polluter. With the passage of the Senate bill, the spotlight now zooms onto the Administration, in particular the Secretary of Transportation, and the talks at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to reach a global agreement to limit aviation emissions– and to reach it quickly.

And as courts have already found, the EU law isn't actually a tax:  if the airlines don't want to, they don't have to send a cent to European government coffers. They can simply fly more efficiently.  And if they don't want to do that, they can buy and sell pollution credits in the global marketplace without ever paying European governments a dime – and maybe even make money in the process.

In the run-up to the passage of the airline pollution bailout bill, a few changes were made that tell the Secretary of Transportation, if he does ban the airlines from complying with the European law, to reconsider his ban if the Europeans amend their law, or if an international agreement is reached to address this pollution, or if the U.S. adopts a regulation (which could take years).

The international agreement provision is the interesting part – it puts pressure on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to amp up its action on climate change and agree on a global program at its next triennial Assembly in 2013.

But other parts of the bill – including those that bail the airlines out of any costs of complying – or not complying – with the law, remain.

Minor changes to the bill ensure that those costs won't be paid out of the airlines' taxpayer-funded trust fund, but taxpayers could still be on the hook if the airlines win a court judgment that the Secretary is required to hold them harmless, as the bill requires, so that the monies come from the taxpayer-funded Judgment Fund, a part of the U.S. Treasury used to satisfy court judgments against the United States.

What if the Secretary invokes his authority under a little-known airline competitiveness law that allows him to impose retaliatory penalties against airlines from countries that the Secretary finds are treating U.S. airlines “unreasonably”?

And what if the Secretary uses that authority to hold U.S. airlines harmless from the European law by dunning Lufthansa, British Airways, and other European airlines for the U.S. airlines’ compliance or non-compliance costs?

Those companies would likely protest in court. But if the Secretary's cost-dunning order were upheld, Europe could retaliate under its own airline competitiveness law and impose retaliatory fees on U.S. airlines.

Then you have a full-scale trade war. And since U.S. airlines have both code-share and revenue-share agreements with European carriers, a trade war on this issue amounts to shooting themselves in the wing.

What happens next?

A similar bill has already passed the House of Representatives, but because the bills have some differences, the House will have to take it up again when Congress reconvenes after the November elections.

Could it be that the part of the bill that's antithetical to U.S. policy is really the fact that the  European law addresses climate change?

Maybe that's the case for the U.S. Congress at this sad juncture in our nation's history.

But is it also the case that the Obama Administration is so opposed to climate action that after 15 years of fruitless international efforts to curb aviation's global warming pollution, the Administration would stand in the way of other nations' efforts to address that pollution?

We don’t believe so. And if the bill passes, we and others will certainly be encouraging the Administration to find that it is in our public interest lies in striking a real deal in ICAO, rather than turning U.S. airlines into scofflaws at taxpayer – or the flying public’s – expense.

Posted in Aviation, News| 6 Responses
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