UK government defers decision for four years on whether to include international aviation emissions in carbon budgets
UK Energy & Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey
Thu 20 Dec 2012 – The UK government has put off a decision on whether to include international aviation and shipping emissions in the country’s carbon budgets until 2016. The budgets run in five-year intervals and the decision will not be made before the setting of the fifth carbon budget. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, said that given the uncertainty of what was happening at the EU and global level over managing international aviation emissions it was sensible to defer the decision. The budgets are designed to ensure that the UK’s overall carbon emissions reach a climate commitment to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. At present, domestic aviation and shipping emissions are included in the budgets, with international emissions informally included in the 2050 target. However, the government’s climate change advisers had strongly recommended a formalisation and bring aviation and shipping into line with other industrial sectors.
Davey said the government was fully committed to meeting the 2050 target, which was consistent with the UK’s contribution to the international 2 degrees C goal, and recognised the importance of treating international aviation and shipping emissions in the same way as other sectors.
However, the recent proposal by the European Commission to suspend international aspects of the Aviation EU ETS so that progress could be made by ICAO in developing a global agreement on the treatment of aviation emissions appears to have played a part in the deferral, although the signs were there before the Commission’s ‘stop the clock’ announcement.
“The government believes that these [aviation and shipping] sectors should be tackled at the international level and we will work hard with our global partners to support the development of wider international multilateral frameworks,” said Davey.
He added that advice had been taken from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on the decision to defer. In response, David Kennedy, CEO of the CCC, said: “There was a risk that the government would use this decision as an opportunity to water down ambition in the Climate Change Act. However, this announcement confirms the status quo that international aviation and shipping emissions are included in the 2050 target and that carbon budgets are set on this basis.
“Recent changes to the EU ETS for aviation mean formal inclusion of international aviation emissions as we previously recommended is not now possible. It is therefore sensible to postpone the formal inclusion of international aviation and shipping emissions in carbon budgets – but it will be important to revisit this once current uncertainties are resolved, for example when we advise on the fifth carbon budget in 2015.”
The CCC has been a strong advocate of including those emissions in the budgets. At a parliamentary committee meeting in October (see article) Kennedy told MPs: “There is a debate to be had about the precise timing but the principle should be very clear that these emissions should be in the carbon accounting framework.”
In a report published in April, the CCC said there was no longer any reason to exclude international aviation and shipping emissions from carbon budgets, regardless of what happened to the EU ETS. “The Climate Change Act incorporates provision to alter carbon budgets in the event of significant changes in international circumstances,” said the report. “Therefore, possible uncertainties over the future of aviation in the EU ETS are not a reason to exclude emissions from carbon budgets or the 2050 target.
“Emissions from international aviation and shipping should be included now to provide a clear basis for design of the fifth carbon budget and supporting policies.”
The net carbon account currently includes emissions from domestic aviation and shipping but excludes international emissions from these sectors. As such, it excludes the vast majority of total UK aviation and shipping emissions, which are international (see table 1 below).
The CCC recommends international aviation emissions should be added to budgets based on the UK share of the EU ETS cap of 31 MtCO2e per year (covering outbound flights), with international shipping emissions adding a further 9 MtCO2e per year.
If they were to be included, in 2013 – the start of the second budget – international aviation would make up 5.2% of emissions covered in the total budget from all sectors. However, by the fourth budget (2023-2027) the share will have risen to 7.2% as other sectors decarbonise faster (see table 2 below).
In order to reach its 80% reduction target, the UK will need to have reduced its overall emissions, including those from international aviation and shipping, to around 160 MtCO2e per year by 2050.