Wed 23 Nov 2011 – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN Under-Secretary-General, today described as “very regrettable” the actions of airlines who were opposing the introduction of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). He said it was wrong to expect others less fortunate to pay the environmental cost of the emissions of those who took flights and said the issue merited much more public discussion. Steiner made his remarks via video link from UNEP’s Nairobi HQ during the launch of its scientific report ‘Bridging the Emissions Gap’ ahead of next week’s UN COP 17 climate talks in Durban and next year’s Rio+20 summit. The report devotes a chapter to global aviation and shipping emissions and how the two sectors could contribute to narrowing the gap by 2020.
“It is very regrettable that a number of the leading airlines in the world, including some in Europe and some hiding behind other airlines outside Europe, are challenging the EU ETS in a judicial context,” he said. “The airline industry and its CEOs should actually be champions of this new scheme – it would make the environmental commitments they make in their annual reports much more credible.”
He said airlines were directly or indirectly trying to prevent the introduction of the first emissions trading platform for a global sector.
“Maybe we do have to pay $5 or $10 more for our tickets because there is [an environmental] price for air travel. Why should others have to pay for my air travel?” he questioned.
The UNEP study follows a report it published last year in time for COP 16 in Cancún that revealed in order to have a likely chance of keeping within the 2⁰C climate change limit this century, emissions in 2020 should not be higher than a peak 44 Gt of CO2 equivalent, after which global emissions would have to decline steeply by on average 2.6% per year. It suggested that if the climate commitments and pledges by countries were met in full, emissions would stand at around 49 Gt – leaving a gap of 5 Gt to be met.
The analysis presented in this year’s report indicates the gap has got larger rather than smaller as a result of new information. In a ‘business as usual’ scenario, emissions could even reach 56 Gt. However, if countries adopt higher-ambition pledges and are also subject to ‘strict’ accounting rules, the median estimate in 2020 is 51 GtCO2e. As part of the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009, 42 industrialised and 44 developing countries submitted pledges, with a further 44 developing countries submitting Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). The UNEP report looks at whether the pledges are consistent with the 2⁰C target.
The report is largely optimistic that through greater leadership and ambition the gap can be feasibly bridged both technologically and economically through improving energy efficiency and producing non-fossil fuel energy sources such as biomass and renewables.
As international emissions from aviation and shipping are not covered by UNFCCC member states’ pledges and are treated separately under the Kyoto Protocol, they have been accorded their own separate chapter in the report.
Using the latest figures from sister UN agency ICAO, civil aviation emissions in 2005 are likely to have been 0.63 GtCO2e, representing 2.1% of global emissions. The report also notes that apart from the long-term warming caused by CO2 emissions, both aviation and shipping have significant non-CO2 emissions and effects that impact upon radiative forcing over the shorter term.
In 2020, combined aviation and shipping emissions are expected to range from 1.74 to 2.50 GtCO2e, representing 4.0 to 5.7% of the median total global emissions. By 2050, the combined emissions are expected to range from 2.09 to 6.77 GtCO2e, representing 10.0 to 32.5% of the median global total. As the emissions increase percentage-wise, it follows that the sum of emissions from all other sectors would have to proportionately decrease to ensure total emissions do not exceed the level consistent with a 2⁰C target.
According to lead author Prof David Lee of Manchester Metropolitan University, aviation emissions grew by 26% over the 2005-2010 period, despite the downturn in 2009.
However, with increased efficiencies through technological and operational measures – along with a small uptake in biofuels – the aviation sector could help reduce the overall emissions gap by around 0.1 GtCO2e. Lee stressed that the emissions reductions would not happen on their own and would require policy action.
He said the study had not looked at options such as market-based measures. However, he added that the introduction of the EU ETS on its own had the potential to double aviation mitigation efforts by adding a further 0.1 GtCO2e reduction in 2020.
Commenting on the release of the report, the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, said: “This study, again, reminds us that efforts to address climate change are currently still insufficient. But it also shows that it is possible for governments to bridge the gap between what they have promised and what needs to be done to stay below a 2⁰C average global temperature rise.
“Time is short, so we need to optimise the tools at hand. In Durban, governments need to resolve the immediate future of the Kyoto Protocol, define the longer path towards a global, binding climate agreement, launch the agreed institutional network to support developing countries in their response to the climate challenge, and set out a path to deliver the long-term funding that will pay for that.”
UNEP ‘Bridging the Emissions Gap’ report (aviation covered under Chapter 4: International Emissions)
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