ICAO takes significant step on efficiency targets for aircraft with agreement on CO2 emissions standard
Mon 8 Feb 2016 – After six years of development, a new aircraft CO2 emissions standard has been agreed by ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), the first-ever to impose binding energy efficiency and CO2 reduction targets for the aviation sector. The environmental measure was, according to ICAO, unanimously recommended by the 170 international experts on CAEP and will now pass for adoption by ICAO’s governing Council. The UN agency says that under the recommendation the standard would apply to both new aircraft type designs as of 2020 and new deliveries of current in-production aircraft types from 2023. A cut-off date of 2028 for production of aircraft that do not comply with the standard was also recommended. The standard is the first of two major decisions to be taken by the Organisation this year on ways to tackle the sector’s growing carbon missions, with agreement on a global market-based measure the next challenge.
“It is particularly encouraging that CAEP’s recommendation today responds so directly to the aircraft technology improvements which States have forged consensus on at recent ICAO Assemblies,” commented Dr Olumuwiya Benard Aliu, President of the ICAO Council. “Every step taken in support of ICAO’s full basket of measures for environmental improvement is an important one, and I am sure the Council will be deeply appreciative of this latest CAEP achievement.”
ICAO says the standard as proposed will be especially stringent for larger aircraft where it will have the greatest impact, such as those manufactured by Boeing and Airbus. Operations of aircraft with a maximum take-off mass (MTOM) of over 60 tonnes account for more than 90% of international aviation emissions, it points out, yet also have access to the broadest range of emissions reduction technologies, as recognised by the standard. However, it adds, the standard also covers the full range of sizes and types of aircraft used today and therefore encompasses all technological feasibility, emissions reduction potential and cost considerations.
Debate will now focus on the stringency of the standard and whether it will have the effect of driving down emissions further than business-as-usual, and initial opinion appears divided.
“The goal of this process is ultimately to ensure that when the next generation of aircraft types enter service, there will be guaranteed reductions in international CO2 emissions,” assured Dr Aliu.
According to preliminary analysis by US-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) on the CAEP recommendation, the standards will on average require a 4% reduction in the cruise fuel consumption of new aircraft starting in 2028 compared to 2015 deliveries, with the actual reductions ranging from 0 to 11%, depending on the MTOM of the aircraft. On average, it considers larger commercial aircraft would be expected to comply with the standard starting in 2017.
“ICAO agreed in 2011 that the standard had had to reduce emissions. And yet the proposal will only require CO2 reductions from new aircraft of 4% over 12 years, when market forces alone are predicted to achieve more than a 10% efficiency gain in the same time frame. This is an anti-backsliding standard,” believes ICCT Executive Director Drew Kodjak.
However, added Kodjak, “At the end of the day, we do now have a CO2 standard for aircraft. We can build on this agreement.” He suggested a ratcheting mechanism similar to the Paris climate agreement reached in December and a revisiting of the standard by the next major CAEP meeting in 2019.
US NGO Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said while the standard appeared to be ambitious as it applied to new types of large aircraft, its application to aircraft already being manufactured was less so. “The technical committee has called for a review, to be concluded by 2019, which could be an opportunity to increase the ambition of the standard as it applies to these aircraft,” said EDF’s International Counsel, Annie Petsonk. “In the meantime, industry should aim to improve the efficiency of aircraft coming off production lines – starting now.”
By contrast, the industry hailed the standard as “rigorous and challenging” and said the CAEP agreement was a significant step towards the sector’s long-term 2050 goal to halve aviation emissions, and would provide “much-needed” momentum ahead of the decision by ICAO States on the global market-based measure.
“The CO2 standard mandates what were previously voluntary actions by aircraft and engine manufacturers, based on the demands of their airline customers,” commented Michael Gill, Executive Director of the industry coalition Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). “Aviation has always had a focus on efficiency. A flight taken today will produce on average half the CO2 produced by the same flight in 1990. This has been made possible through a range of climate actions, including new technology; better operation of existing aircraft; and improvements in infrastructure.
“New technology aircraft can provide significant savings in CO2 as they enter the world airline fleet. In fact, efficiency is often the key competitive differentiator for manufacturers. They currently spend around $15 billion per year on efficiency research and development. This standard places an obligation on the manufacturers, and the market-based measure will do the same thing for airlines and other operators.
“Air transport must support the sustainable development of economies whilst also dealing with our climate change responsibility. The step taken today and the global market-based measure we hope will be agreed at the ICAO Assembly in September will enable that to happen.”
A fact sheet released by the White House estimated more than 650 million tons of aviation CO2 would be saved between 2020 and 2040 as a result of the standard, the equivalent of removing over 140 million cars from the road for a year. It said the stringency options (see article) for new and in-production commercial airplanes were finalised in the upper end of the range for large aircraft at SO8.5 and SO7 (SO10 being the most stringent level), which was in line with what the US had proposed. The White House said the CAEP agreement was “an important signal that the international community is well-positioned to rise to the challenge of implementing a global market-based approach to reduce aviation emissions later this year.” The MBM, it said, had the potential to offset several gigatons of carbon through until 2035.
Welcoming the CO2 standard, EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said: “This agreement is an important step to curb aviation emissions. An ambitious climate policy is an integral part of the Commission’s plan to create an Energy Union, and a priority of the new Aviation Strategy. The EU played a central role in brokering this deal, as it did at the COP21 in Paris. I hope this will create further momentum for the creation of a Global Market-Based Measure to offset CO2 emissions from international aviation, which we hope to achieve this autumn at the ICAO General Assembly.”
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing commended ICAO CAEP for the agreement and said it was fully committed to meeting the new standard. “We believe the standard will have the intended results of ensuring older aircraft are replaced by newer, more efficient aircraft that will further reduce fuel use and carbon emissions,” it said in a statement. “The new standard is ambitious and will become part of the certification process applied to every airplane before delivery based on the ICAO schedule. We have made significant investments to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of our products and will continue to do so. Environmental goals are aligned with our business goals, as greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions are top priorities for our commercial customers. Our new commercial airplanes have been designed to meet and even exceed challenging emission requirements.”
Rival Airbus also commended the achievement, saying it had invested significantly in improving the environmental performance of its sites, products and services, “consistently bringing the most eco-efficient aircraft to the market, meeting and surpassing environmental performance requirements.” It added in a statement: “Airbus will continually strive to meet and exceed ambitious emissions requirements for both current and future aircraft.”
IATA said when the standard comes into force from 2020 it will ensure CO2 emissions from new aircraft will have to meet a minimum baseline defined as a maximum fuel burn per flight kilometre which must not be exceeded. From 2023 this will also apply to existing aircraft designs still in manufacture at that date. IATA Director General Tony Tyler described the agreement as “a vital and very welcome development.” He said it would not solve aviation's climate challenge alone, “but it is an important element in our comprehensive strategy for tackling carbon emissions.”
He added: “The next milestone will be the implementation of a market-based measure to address CO2 emissions, which we hope to see agreed at the ICAO Assembly in September. Our shared industry goals are for carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and for a 50% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. This CO2 standard is a significant milestone towards those targets, and proves that the industry and the world’s governments are working together to find a sustainable future for aviation.”
“I am pleased that ICAO reached an international consensus on a meaningful standard to foster reduction in CO2 emissions from aircraft,” said Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator. “We are encouraged by this success and believe it puts us on a promising path to secure a robust market-based measure later this year. This is another example of the administration's deep commitment to working with the international community on policies that will reduce harmful carbon pollution worldwide.
“The US prides itself on making progress in all areas of ICAO’s agreed-upon 'basket of measures' to address aviation greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the development of new airframe and engine technologies, aircraft operational improvements, sustainable, alternative fuels, and a global market-based measure as a gap-filler. Since the 2013 ICAO Assembly, we have continued to work within ICAO to take a holistic approach to addressing aviation’s contribution to climate change. We, along with other Member States, continue to believe that addressing the entire basket of measures is the most effective way for international aviation to reduce its carbon footprint.”
The agreement to recommend standards applicable to the future production of existing-type aircraft added to the significance of the CAEP decision, given that CAEP had only committed to a standard for new-type aircraft in the discussions leading up to the meeting, commented trade association Airlines for America (A4A).
It said the recommended standards for large aircraft were among the most aggressive under consideration, whereas lower levels of stringency were recommended for smaller aircraft, “recognising that flight physics complicate the adoption of certain of the more effective fuel-efficiency technologies into such aircraft.”
Said Nancy Young, A4A VP Environmental Affairs: “While the U.S. airlines account for only 2% of the nation’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions, we strongly support the aircraft CO2 standards put forth by CAEP, as they will further support our global aviation coalition’s emissions goals to achieve 1.5% annual average fuel efficiency improvements through 2020 and carbon neutral growth from 2020, subject to critical aviation infrastructure and technology advances achieved by government and industry.”
A4A pointed out that CAEP also recommended a particulate matter standard for new aircraft engines, which transitions the current smoke standard to a standard that also reflects non-volatile particular matter emissions controls. “The smoke standard has been overwhelmingly successful, resulting in the virtual elimination of smoke emissions from aircraft,” Young said. “By transitioning the smoke standard as proposed, we can build on that success to focus further on non-visible particulate matter emissions.”
European NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) was highly critical of the CO2 standard recommendation, saying it was unlikely to have any positive climate impact and had fallen victim to commercial pressures by “the Airbus-Boeing duopoly”. It argued that market forces alone would have required a better fuel performance than the standard specifies by the time the first new aircraft types fly in 2024.
Variants of in-production single-aisle aircraft (Airbus Neo and Boeing MAX) now coming on the market that will dominate deliveries for the next generation would easily comply with a higher stringency than that now set for such aircraft by ICAO, believes T&E.
“Reducing aviation emissions is critical to the industry’s environmental sustainability, but the commercial interests of companies like Airbus have been put way before environmental considerations,” said T&E Aviation Director Bill Hemmings. “The outcome also reflects poorly on the European experts and their governments just weeks after the Paris climate deal agreed on the urgent need for greater ambition.”