European roadmap to cut transport carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 marks out a less ambitious route for aviation
EC Vice-President Siim Kallas outlines transport vision for 2050
Wed 20 Apr 2011 – The landmark White Paper on EU transport policy through to 2050, presented recently by the European Commission, unveiled a roadmap for reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent across all transport sectors relative to 1990. However, it now appears that reductions in aviation emissions are only likely to amount to 34 per cent by 2050 compared with 2005 levels, leaving other transport sectors to shoulder heavier cuts to make the overall target. This is partly explained by the different baseline years used but also an anticipation by the Commission of a higher growth of traffic compared with other modes and by more limited technological options in aviation for emissions reductions. To achieve the 34 per cent sector decrease, the Commission is expecting aviation biofuels to make a substantial contribution, but not until towards the end of the period. According to a Commission official, the reduction from now until 2050 in energy intensity from aviation is projected to average 1.4 per cent per year.
The 1.4% annual average improvement, however, hides the fact that the Commission believes only 1% can be achieved on an annual average basis until 2030, rapidly jumping to 5% thereafter through till 2050. This anticipates that progress on projects like the Single European Sky – which is expected to provide a 10% gain in airline fuel efficiency in European airspace – and step changes in new aircraft and engine technology will not fully impact until well after 2020.
According to Sandro Santamato, Head of the Economic Analysis, Impact Assessment and Evaluation Unit in the Commission’s transport directorate (DG MOVE), biofuels are anticipated to make up around 40% of total EU aviation fuel use in 2050, although he does not expect significant uptake before 2035 and only some 12% by 2040.
The UK government’s climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, have stated that biofuels were unlikely to make up more than 10% by 2050. “Yes, we were aware of this estimate but there are also other estimates which are much closer to our result, for example the International Energy Agency predicts a 30% use of aviation biofuels at a world level in 2050,” Santamato told GreenAir Online.
Improving the efficiency of aircraft and air traffic management operations has to be pursued, says the White Paper, but “attention is needed however to avoid imposing excessive burdens on EU operations which could compromise the EU role as a ‘global aviation hub’. Airport capacity needs to be optimised and, where necessary, increased to face growing demand for travel to and from third countries and areas of Europe otherwise poorly connected, which could result in a more than doubling of EU air transport activities by 2050. In other cases, high speed rail should absorb much medium distance traffic. The EU aviation industry should become a frontrunner in the use of low-carbon fuels to reach the 2050 target.”
The Commission’s short-to-medium term estimate of a 1% annual average fuel efficiency improvement and a 34% overall reduction in aviation CO2 emissions by 2050 against 2005 levels contrasts less optimistically with the aviation industry’s goals of 1.5% and 50% respectively.
However, Santamato notes there are different concepts and metrics for calculating efficiency, for example fuel per passenger-km and fuel per seat-km, which can produce different results and need to be accounted for when making comparisons. On the industry’s long-term 2050 target, he said: “We do not have the full details on how this will be achieved, but it seems that they are confident in a rapid uptake and wide use of biofuels in this sector, on which we are more cautious. It also appears that their target includes the use of offsets, at least in the medium term, which we do not include.
“Our modelling produces results in terms of efficiency gains that are very much aligned with a number of existing reports and studies.”
According to the White Paper, the current share of transport to total EU CO2 emissions is about a quarter, with aviation accounting for 12.8% of that share. By 2030, transport’s share is forecast to increase to 38%, and almost 50% by 2050, due to the relatively lower decline of CO2 emissions from transport compared to power generation and other sectors.
The growth trend in aviation emissions is not compatible with the objective of a low-carbon, competitive economy that would meet the long-term requirements for limiting climate change to 2 degrees C, says the White Paper, which lays out four possible policy options. One possible measure mooted in the document is the abolition on intra-EU flights of the taxation exemption on aviation kerosene.
On the wider stage, the Commission considers the international aviation and maritime sectors will need to make substantial contributions to the overall GHG abatement effort but accepts there are possible consequences.
“All policy options demonstrate an increased need for global action that ensures a level playing field internationally,” says the impact assessment accompanying the White Paper. “Therefore, depending on what emission reduction policies are adopted in IMO and ICAO, a certain strain on international relations, in particular with developing countries, can be expected at least in the near and medium term. In addition, the implementation of taxation policies going beyond the internalisation of external costs for international transport under Policy Option 2 may require substantial diplomatic efforts.”
In the White Paper, the Commission expresses the importance of Europe speaking with one voice in international transport forums and says its proposal to negotiate directly with bodies such ICAO, where the EU has only observer status, has so far been blocked by EU Member States. However, it notes the opening of an EU office in Montreal to provide a permanent representation at ICAO and closer cooperation with the UN body.
Removing barriers in the EU and opening up markets to competition has had a profound impact, says the policy document, and air transport liberalisation has boosted the number of air passengers and routes served.
However, it adds, transport is heavily dependent on imported oil. “And while most sectors have been reducing CO2 emissions, transport’s share has been steadily increasing. By 2050, we need to have greatly reduced those emissions and made inroads into tackling congestion and environmental pollution.
“To achieve Europe’s targeted 80% CO2 reduction by 2050 compared to 1990, oil consumption in the transport sector must drop by around 70% from today, implying a revolution in transport fuels and the way we travel.”
Presenting the report, Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, who is responsible for transport, said: “Transport 2050 is a roadmap for a competitive transport sector that increases mobility and cuts emissions. We can and we must do both. The widely held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true. Competitive transport systems are vital for Europe’s ability to compete in the world, for economic growth, job creation and for peoples’ everyday quality of life. Curbing mobility is not an option; neither is business as usual. We can break the transport system’s dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility. It can be win-win.”