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 performance, decreasing 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.
Twelve states and provinces representing 100 million people from seven countries have committed to dramatically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) hosted the May 19 event in Sacramento commemorating the official signing of the agreement by so-called "subnational" state and provincial governments.
The Subnational Global Climate Leadership Memorandum of Understanding is part of a growing momentum on climate action in the lead-up to the UN climate talks that will be taking place in Paris at the end of the year.
The founding signatories of the agreement are from three continents and have a combined GDP of $4.5 trillion, which would constitute the fourth largest economic entity in the world; they are:
Baja California, Mexico*
British Columbia, Canada
California, United States*
Oregon, United States
Vermont, United States
Wales, United Kingdom
Washington, United States
(* indicates the jurisdiction attended the May 19 signing ceremony)
The signers committed that by 2050 they would cut total emissions 80-95% percent below 1990 levels or achieve a per capita emissions target of below two metric tons.
The agreement is being referred to as the “Under 2 MOU,” a play both on this per capita target of two metric tons, and the goal of limiting global temperature rise to under 2 degrees, which Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists say is needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Read More
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? 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
Cacao grown by indigenous and community cooperatives has supported the growth of the organic ultra-premium chocolate industry. Photo Credit: Flickr/USAID Development Credit Authority
Across the Amazon, indigenous peoples have long harvested well-known commodities like cacao, coffee, Brazil nuts, and hearts of palm. Indigenous communities rely on such “non-timber” forest products—which also include traditional crops and less well-known natural products such as sacha inchi and camu camu—for the communities’ own consumption and for sale.
Responsible trade in these products can make a significant contribution to indigenous communities working to conserve their forests and generate alternative sources of income. Because indigenous management of Amazon forests is critical to controlling and reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, responsible trade also aligns with the growing body of corporate commitments to deforestation-free sourcing.
Indigenous products and community enterprises, however, face practical, commercial and organizational challenges in getting to market, particularly at scale. Overcoming these obstacles requires a combination of financial expertise, technical assistance and strategic commercial relationships. Read More
Aldo Rebelo, Brazil's new Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation denies climate change is real or caused by humans. Above: Rebelo takes his new position in a Jan. 2 ceremony in Brasília. Source: Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has repeatedly claimed international leadership for Brazil on climate change in international forums, based on successes in reducing Amazon deforestation.
But days before the start of the new year, Rousseff appointed two ministers who cast doubt on Brazil’s leadership and bode ill for the atmosphere – especially given increases in Brazil’s deforestation rates from 2012–2013 and signs that deforestation may be once again be on the increase. Read More
At the Lima climate negotiations, negotiators reached a narrow outcome that provided a little more clarity on the path to reaching a new international climate agreement in Paris in 2015. Source: Flickr (UNEP)
In the wee hours of last Sunday morning, negotiators at the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, finally concluded this year’s talks with a narrow outcome that provided a little more clarity on the path to reaching a new international climate agreement during the December 2015 talks in Paris.
Although the talks have been characterized as the “first time” all countries have agreed to cut emissions, that’s actually not the case.
Although the talks have been characterized as the “first time” that all countries have agreed to cut emissions, that’s actually not the case. That key development came in South Africa in 2011, where the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action established a process to develop a new agreement “applicable to all Parties” (the same accord that will be finalized in Paris).
And Durban itself built on the progress made in 2009 in the Copenhagen Accord, which included pledges by developing as well as developed countries to undertake mitigation actions. That put a crack in the so-called “firewall” that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol had raised between developed countries (which took on binding emissions reductions) and developing countries (which did not).
Nonetheless, the Lima Call for Climate Action did take an important step forward in reaffirming this trend.