EDF Talks Global Climate

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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Why airlines should stop climate change

Carbon pollution from airplanes creates risks to the general public’s health and welfare, according to a preliminary EPA finding released this week. But the aviation sector itself is particularly vulnerable to the rising seas, higher temperatures, and intense weather events brought by an overheated atmosphere.

Experts have been warning for years about risks airports and airlines face from climate change, including:

  • airport runways buckling in the heat or flooding;
  • health issues for airport and airline workers from higher temperatures on the tarmac;
  • smaller capacity for take offs and landings during stormy weather;
  • damage to critical air traffic control equipment from storms and floods; and
  • impaired airplane performancedecreasing how far planes can fly (range) and how much weight they can carry (payload).

Airlines and the traveling public experienced the full force of these impacts in 2012. Hurricane Sandy caused the cancellation of nearly 20,000 flights in the New York area, cost the airline industry nearly $190 million in earnings, and did $29 million in damage to federal air navigation systems. Some navigation systems were offline for weeks, limiting the ability of airlines to land in poor weather even after the storm had ended.

These hefty risks place serious costs on the airlines themselves, the cities that own airports, businesses that rely on efficient cargo transport, and the flying public. This industry needs to protect the climate for its own sake. Airlines should support tough limits on carbon pollution.

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Airlines’ biofuel ambitions must not increase emissions

By Rafael A Grillo Avila, Environmental Defense Fund & James Beard, WWF-UK

If international aviation were a country, it would be a global top-ten carbon emitter, with emissions expected to triple or quadruple by 2040. This is why the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has agreed to cap net carbon emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels.

Airlines are planning on filling up with biofuels to meet their climate change goals, but will aviation biofuel policies be based on science or fantasy? (Photo credit: Flickr/Mika Meskanen)

Airlines are planning on filling up with biofuels to meet their climate change goals, but will aviation biofuel policies be based on science or fantasy? Above: A plane is refueled. (Photo credit: Flickr/Mika Meskanen)

ICAO aims to achieve this goal through technical and operational measures; carbon pricing through market-based measures (MBM’s); and biofuels. Many airlines see biofuels as a “silver bullet” for meeting their carbon goals.  Already over 40 airlines have flown over 600,000 biofuel-powered flights.

Biofuels: aviation’s silver bullet?

ICAO established the Alternative Fuels Task Force (AFTF) to answer the key question: how much do biofuels actually reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? The AFTF is close to finalizing its answer. EDF, WWF-UK and our colleagues in the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation are working to secure an MBM of high environmental integrity for international flights. Getting biofuel carbon accounting right is vital. If biofuels reduce carbon pollution, then airlines’ obligations under the MBM will decrease. But if biofuels increase carbon pollution, then airlines’ MBM obligations will increase. Read More »

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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?

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