UK climate advisers recommend international aviation emissions be included in national carbon budgets
Thu 5 Apr 2012 – The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the UK government on national carbon targets, has recommended international aviation and shipping emissions be included in carbon budgets and the UK’s 2050 overall target to reduce emissions 80 per cent below 1990 levels. International emissions from the two sectors had previously been excluded because of the complexities involved but the introduction of aviation into the EU ETS has now made it possible to calculate aviation’s UK share and provide a mechanism to cap its emissions growth. Current UK policy is to return aviation emissions to 2005 levels by 2050. The full inclusion of aviation emissions into the legally binding carbon budgets would put pressure on the UK aviation industry to deliver on its own reduction goals. However, the CCC said the UK should not set unilateral emissions targets but should work within longer-term global or EU agreements.
The UK’s Climate Change Act passed in 2008 included greenhouse gas emissions from all industrial sectors except those from international aviation and shipping but required the government to make a decision by the end of 2012 on whether to include them. The CCC has concluded there is no longer any reason not to do so and recommends that the currently legislated budgets are increased to allow for international aviation and shipping emissions. The Committee says emissions from these two sectors are an important and growing contributor to global warming, and a failure to include them could result either in increased costs and risks of meeting carbon budgets or in accepting higher risks of dangerous climate change.
UK emissions from international aviation doubled from 16 MtCO2e in 1990 to 32 MtCO2e in 2010, compared to a sharp fall in other sectors covered by the current budgets. There are three five-year budgets set for the 2013-2017 (Budget 2), 2018-2022 (Budget 3) and 2023-2027 (Budget 4) periods. The carbon budget for Budget 2 is currently 2,782 MtCO2e, falling to 1,950 MtCO2e by the end of Budget 4.
Accepting the challenges of decarbonising the aviation sector, the CCC proposes the aviation budgets should be set at an equal 155 MtCO2e (i.e. 31 MtCO2e per year) for each of the three periods, rather than a gradual decrease as the other sectors are expected to achieve.
Commenting on the CCC recommendation, environmental group Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) said this would give aviation very significant advantages over other sectors in terms of emissions abatement. However, the AEF said it strongly supported the inclusion of aviation emissions in the budgets and targets.
“People in the UK fly more than anyone else in the world, so it is right that the UK takes a leading role in tackling aviation emissions growth,” it said. “The Committee’s recommendations would give aviation considerable leeway compared with other sectors but would ensure that aviation in future participates transparently in the UK’s efforts to bring our economy within sustainable limits.”
In an accompanying report, the CCC warns against a unilateral approach to reducing aviation and shipping emissions, saying it would have a limited impact in reducing emissions and would not result in technology innovations. On aviation, such an approach could result in displacement of hubbing to other airports in Europe, whereby UK passengers might fly short-haul to other EU airports and connect to long-haul flights, without an overall reduction in emissions. However, it says sectoral planning assumptions are required under the Act that can usefully inform negotiating positions in international agreements, underpin technology policy (such as supporting development and uptake of more efficient planes) and are additional factors which should be considered in the context of infrastructure investment, say in airport capacity development and possible expansion.
In EU and international policy dialogue and in supporting technology policies, the CCC recommends the government continue to support implementation of the EU ETS which, it says, will provide increasing incentives to reduce emissions as the carbon price rises. Building on this, the government should work with other countries in ICAO to agree a global mechanism for emissions reduction. The government should also support development of more efficient airframe and engine designs and advanced biofuels, it adds.
The CCC also recommends that additional non-CO2 warming from aviation should be addressed, although not in the budgets, and developing options to mitigate them should be a priority over the next decade.
Last month, the UK aviation industry group Sustainable Aviation set out an updated roadmap in how to reduce net CO2 emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050, yet accommodate significant economic growth.
Commenting on the CCC’s recommendations, Matthew Gorman, the group’s Chairman and also BAA’s Director of Sustainability, said: “Aviation is a globally interconnected industry and needs a global solution to address its emissions in a cost effective manner without introducing competitive distortions. Unilateral targets to limit UK aviation emissions will lead to those emissions being produced elsewhere and market distortion. With this in mind we welcome the Committee on Climate Change’s support for multilateral measures to tackle climate change rather than unilateral national targets.
“Clearly there is much more to this report which we will now study in detail, including aviation’s inclusion in the UK’s carbon budgets, and we look forward to continued dialogue with all parties on this important matter.”