Mon 15 Mar 2010 – Despite aviation’s huge social and economic contribution to modern life, its greenhouse gas emissions cannot be left to grow unabated, said Paul Clark MP, the UK’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, at an aviation and shipping seminar last week. He said if no action was taken, and if all other sectors abate as required in order to meet the 2-degree climate target, then by 2050 aviation and shipping emissions could rise to as much as 20 percent of total global emissions. This underpinned the UK’s approach to last December’s Copenhagen climate change conference, he said, in pressing hard for a global deal that included emissions from international aviation and shipping. Speaking at the same event, the Tyndall Centre’s Professor Kevin Anderson warned that only the most radical transport policies delivered within the next decade would help avoid catastrophic climate change.
Clark told delegates to the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum seminar that aviation and shipping were two key components in the UK Government’s efforts to respond to the climate change challenge.
“These two transport sectors have made a huge contribution to the quality of our modern lives – socially and economically,” he said. “Together they have democratized travel, opened markets and enabled the spread of trade. They have also brought countries, communities and people closer together than ever before. All positive, all beneficial. All things that have changed our world for the better.
“But, beyond question, aviation and shipping also have an impact on our shared environment. International aviation and shipping accounts for approximately 2% each of total greenhouse gas emissions. Now some might say that each of these emissions totals is relatively small. But when we fast forward we can see that emissions in both sectors are forecast to grow - and grow substantially.
“It was this simple truth that underpinned our approach to last year’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. It’s why we went into it pressing hard for a global climate deal that included emissions from international aviation and shipping.”
He said that although the UK did not get the deal it had called for, the Copenhagen Accord was a significant step towards a comprehensive, legally binding agreement.
“In a sense, Copenhagen is simply part of a wider process and a bigger picture – part of a nexus of on-going work and continuing progress,” he believed. “So the UK and EU continue to press internationally for a global agreement that covers all parties. And, through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) we will be encouraging countries to come together to address those issues that have blocked progress in recent years.
“We will also carry on our key work within ICAO. Last year, ICAO agreed global fuel efficiency goals and committed to working on the development of a global framework for market-based measures. We expect to build on this progress at the ICAO Assembly in September this year.
“If we fail to develop a global mechanism, then we could well end up with a series of regional systems – something that would be a second order solution to a first order problem.”
Clark welcomed initiatives like the Aviation Global Deal, a group of international aviation interests that has been lobbying for progress on a global framework for tackling emissions.
He said the UK Government and key players within aviation and shipping realized the potential of technology to make their sectors cleaner and greener, and believed aviation had made genuine progress. He cited a range of advances in engine and airframe technology such as the use of lighter materials, the development of open rotor engines and innovations like blended-wing aircraft.
“In the years ahead biofuels might also have an increasingly important contribution to make,” he told delegates. “But let me be clear about one thing – ‘sustainability’ must be our watchword here. In plain English, that means only using sustainable biofuels that deliver high greenhouse gas savings and have low social and environmental impacts.”
He said the goal of a 10% reduction in emissions per EU flight through improvements in air traffic management was “a goal worth striving for”, and the UK would continue to press its European partners to accelerate the pace of reform.
Clark concluded by saying government and industry had to work in partnership. “If we do not set the pace then others will set the agenda. But together, if we lead from the front, and lead by example, then we can also lead the debate. We can show that aviation and shipping are part of the solution – not part of the problem.”
However, Professor Kevin Anderson, Research Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, stated there was little technology can do in the short to medium term to mitigate the growth in aviation greenhouse gas emissions. Even long term targets to 2050 were highly misleading, he said, in spite of the fact they had dominated the debate on climate change, and had little to do with mitigating the effects of climate change.
“CO2 emissions from aviation now will be in the atmosphere for at least the next 100 years,” he said. “What’s important is cumulative emissions and the question is what can we do in the next few years.”
Advances in technology leading to improvements in fuel efficiency and developments in alternative fuels were not a short term solution. “And that leads me to the extremely uncomfortable conclusion that you have to have demand management if we are to have an outside chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.”
Prof Anderson said, whilst important, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme could not deliver the scale reductions in emissions necessary. “You cannot rely on a price mechanism to drive down emissions in this or any other sector,” he argued.
He believed the aviation industry’s aims of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and a 50% net reduction in emissions by 2050 were not sufficient to help meet the 2-degree target. “If there were absolute, real reductions then that would certainly be a move in the right direction but if it’s carbon-neutral growth with offsetting then, no, it’s not enough,” he maintained.
“The 2-degree target is extremely challenging, if not impossible, but we have to be up to the challenge,” he concluded. “Without stringent policies in the immediate time-frame – not in 2020 or 2030 – in this and any other sector, we are putting ourselves in line for an increase as high as 4 degrees C.”
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
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