As air traffic growth outpaces carbon reduction efforts, a global regulator with teeth is required, says new study
Tue 26 Aug 2014 – Even if proposed mitigation measures are agreed upon and put in place, the growth in air traffic is likely to outpace emission reductions unless demand is substantially reduced, finds new research by the UK’s University of Southampton. Implementation of market-based measures and a global CO2 standard for aircraft will provide additional incentives for greater reduction rates in the future in combination with progress in aircraft technology, efficient operational procedures and alternative fuels, say the researchers, but are unlikely to be sufficient to close the emissions gap. In which case, behaviour change to reduce air travel demand will become necessary through higher ticket prices, they propose, and call for the setting up of a global regulator “with teeth” to enforce CO2 emission reduction measures.
The analysis, in a paper to be published in the October 2014 edition of the journal Atmospheric Environment, shows that forecasts for strong growth in air traffic, at nearly 5% per year on average, will result in civil aviation becoming an increasingly significant contributor to anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
Commenting on the study, co-author Professor Ian Williams, Head of the Centre for Environmental Sciences at the University of Southampton, said: “Some mitigation measures can be left to the aviation sector to resolve. For example, the industry will continue to seek improvements to fuel efficiency as this will reduce costs. However, other essential measures, such as securing international agreements, setting action plans, regulations and carbon standards will require political leadership at a global level.”
The researchers say the current global regulatory framework does not provide the necessary strength of stewardship. Instead, the industry requires a regulator that can impose global regulations aimed at achieving policy goals, backed with the authority to impose penalties on the participating entities in the event of non-compliance.
“ICAO would seem the obvious candidate for this role, but to strengthen their authority to appropriate levels would require international agreement from many different parties, all with their own vested interests. Historically, such international agreements have proved difficult to secure,” they acknowledge. The paper adds that an unwillingness to tax aviation fuel – international aviation fuel is exempt – further illustrates the difficulties surrounding international agreements.
“ICAO lacks the legal authority to force compliance and therefore is heavily reliant on voluntary cooperation and piecemeal agreements,” say the authors.
To induce behaviour change, they suggest measures are needed that provide potential users of air travel with incentives to make the environmentally ‘correct’ choice, or disincentives to make the ‘wrong’ choice. They calculate that the ticket price increase to drive down demand would value CO2 emissions at up to one hundred times the current carbon price.
“This would translate to a yearly 1.4% increase on ticket prices,” said Matt Grote, co-author and researcher. “The price of domestic tickets has dropped in real terms by 1.3% a year between 1979 and 2012, and international fares have fallen by 0.5% per annum between 1990 and 2012.”
The researchers accept, though, that reducing demand will be strongly resisted by all stakeholders in the civil aviation industry, including national governments and consumers.
“The benefits of an extensive, well-connected aviation network are difficult to dispute, particularly for longer distance travel where practical alternatives become limited,” concludes the paper. “However, it is clear that whilst aviation must remain one piece of the transport jigsaw, from an environmental perspective there is an urgent requirement for a global regulator with teeth to be established.”