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Aviation Emissions Stay Up

In matters of carbon emissions, aviation is a long and endless orgy of emissions. Aviation must therefore contribute to the global price of carbon.

On the other hand, European aviation has imposed low cost business models that grew constantly over the last two decades. Indeed they opened unprecedented business opportunities. However,

the main challenge for the growth of EU aviation is to address the capacity, efficiency and connectivity constraints. The fragmentation of the European airspace costs at least €5 billion a year and up to 50 million tonnes of CO2. Therefore, the new Aviation Strategy is perceived as averting carbon emissions.

Despite the “holistic approach” in developing European aviation, the overall decarbonization of transports lags behind as trans-border night trains are being discontinued all over the continent. Naturally, these distances are covered by aviation (low-cost) services. Hence an increase in carbon emissions and a “dirty growth.”

Henrik Hololei, DG MOVE
Henrik Hololei, DG MOVE

Henrik Hololei, Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission’s DG MOVE, rejects the “dirty growth” theory since European aviation companies invested in inovation and technology leading to an overall curbing of emissions in aviation services.

The new European Strategy addresses a range of subjects, including current and future green technologies to reduce aircraft emissions, technologies for green aircraft operations, eco airports, renewable energy, sustainable alternative fuels for aviation and financing and assistance.

Hololei underlined that “we are talking about less than 2% of the overall global emissions when tackling aviation; anyway, in September 2013 all went into the wall when at ICAO only EU and USA were the ones to request cuts in emissions.”

“We push more this year as ICAO will have to come forth with CO2 standards for new aircrafts; failure is not an option if we keep the target to have a carbon neutral growth starting 2020,” stressed Hololei.

In 2010, the ICAO General Assembly passed a resolution to explore the guiding principles for the design and implementation of a global market-based mechanism (MBM) of CO2 emission reduction. The formal decision was adopted in 2013 by the ICAO General Assembly, which decided to develop an MBM to “bridge the gap” between achievable in-sector reductions and the 2020 goal. The decision was, in part, in response to EU legislation that, since 2012, included emissions from all flights from, to and within the European Economic Area – the 28 EU member States, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). [Alice Bisiaux, LL.M. for IISD – Emissions from International Transport (AKA the Elephant in the Climate Change Policy Room)]

The EU legislation applies to both EU and non-EU airlines, and sparked protests from airlines, manufacturers, trade groups and aviation officials from non-EU countries. These protesters argued that the EU legislation was extraterritorial and therefore illegal under international law. In response to a backlash from the aviation sector, and to allow time for negotiations on a global MBM through ICAO applying to aviation emissions, the EU ETS requirements were suspended for flights in 2012 to and from non-European countries. For the period from 2013-2016, the EU legislation has also been amended so that only emissions from flights within the EEA fall under the EU ETS. The temporary EU ETS exemption puts additional pressure on ICAO and its members to establish an MBM in 2016, as the full EU ETS requirements will otherwise revert in 2017.

ICAO announced a carbon emissions standard that would apply to new aircraft from 2020, and to all new deliveries of in-production aircraft – current types, or minor variations on current types – as from 2028.

Aircraft that don’t meet the standard will not be allowed to be produced after 2028.  None of the operational aircraft currently in the fleet will be affected.

“New generation aircraft are generally some 10-15% more fuel efficient than those they replace. They need to be to sell. This translates to an average annual efficiency improvement of between 0.5% and 1.0%. Constant market pressures result in a continuously improving line when you plot the average fuel consumption of new aircraft types against their entry into commercial service date,” says Bill Hemmings, Director, Aviation and Shipping, at Transport & Environment.

Yet ICAO intends to regulate this ever improving trend with a flat (time independent) carbon standard. Even if the stringency is initially set at a level that will have an impact, its effect will quickly fade over time as market-driven improvements cut in.

The maximum theoretical effect of the standard at maximum stringencies is just 1 gigatonne of CO2 between 2020-2040, while total CO2 emissions from aviation over this period will be in the order of some 31 Gtonnes, i.e. a potential saving of just 3%, concludes Hemmings.

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