GREENAIR NEWSLETTER 7 APRIL 2017
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North American airports recognised for their achievements in environmental leadership
Fri 7 Apr 2017 – Miami International Airport, Indianapolis Airport Authority, Minneapolis-St Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport have been announced as this year’s winners of the ACI-NA Environmental Achievement Awards. The four awards by trade association Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) recognise outstanding achievement in the categories of Environmental Management; Environmental Mitigation; Outreach, Education and Community Involvement; and Innovative/Special Projects. A runner-up award was made to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The awards were started in 1997 and winning airports are required to demonstrate the environmental benefit of their project and its innovative approach, effective implementation, applicability and cost-effectiveness. Meanwhile, Dallas Fort Worth has received a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Climate Leadership Award for Organizational Leadership.
The ACI-NA’s Environmental Management Award went to Miami International for its ‘Sustainability Project at MIA’, a $32 million large-scale effort involving air conditioning and ventilation upgrades, water conservation retrofits, energy-efficient lighting and other initiatives. They are expected to save the airport more than 35 million kilowatts of power per year and $40 million in utility costs over the 14-year contract period with Florida Power & Light Services.
An honourable mention went to Detroit’s reconstruction of runway 4L/22R and associated taxiways, which was among the first at an airport to apply sustainability practices to an airfield project and despite having to follow an aggressive schedule. The project has already received an award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, which recognises sustainable infrastructure across the full range of environmental, social and economic impacts.
The Outreach, Education and Community Involvement Award made to Indianapolis Airport Authority was for its ‘Community Bee Apiary’ project that is housed on 4.7 acres of otherwise unused airport land. A partnership with a local non-profit, the White Lick Beekeepers Association, the apiary helps to preserve the local honeybee population and serves as a training site for future beekeepers.
Minneapolis-St Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) won the Special/Innovative Project Award for the ‘Optimized Profile Descent Application and Associated Emission Reduction Results’ developed by the MAC Environment Department that quantifies the environmental benefits of fuel and carbon reductions achieved through Performance-based Navigation (PBN) procedures. The application was developed to be easily shareable with other airports and MAC has used it and the results in a collaborative effort with the community that resulted in approval for implementing PBN arrival procedures.
The Mitigation Award went to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport for its Noise Management Program. The airport has undertaken continuing engagement with different groups of stakeholders that has been combined with innovative noise reduction efforts, resulting in a reduced number of noise-related complaints received from the community, said ACI-NA.
Gene Peters, Director of Ricondo & Associates was presented with an individual award for his long-standing contributions to the ACI-NA Environmental Committee.
“North American airports recognise that continued sustainability leads to economic vitality and operational efficiency, while minimising their environmental footprint,” commented ACI-NA President Kevin Burke. “The 2017 Award winners are industry leaders when it comes to protecting the environment while serving their passengers and communities.”
Dallas Fort Worth International (DFW) received its Climate Leadership Award from the EPA for the second year in a row, the first time an airport has achieved the recognition. The Organizational Leadership Award “recognises organisations that not only have their own comprehensive gas inventories and aggressive emissions reduction goals, but also exemplify extraordinary leadership in their internal response to climate change and the engagement of their peers, partners and supply chain,” reported DFW.
Last year, DFW became the first airport to receive the EPA award for Greenhouse Gas Management. “This year’s recognition proves we are committed to responding to climate change and implementing the emissions reduction initiatives we’ve set in place,” said DFW CEO Sean Donohue. “Our airport will continue to demonstrate global leadership in sustainability within the industry.”
The airport said it would be continuing with GHG reduction initiatives by increasing renewable energy and alternative fuel use, and by integrating best available energy-efficient technology into facilities, systems, processes and operations. Partnerships are also expected to be expanded, it added, with airlines, regulatory agencies, academia, NGOs, business associations and other stakeholders “to develop effective and sustainable solutions to improve air quality and reduce aviation’s impact on climate change.”
In August 2016, DFW became the first airport in North America to achieve the top carbon neutrality level status in the industry’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme (see article).
Seaweed cultivation could provide a promising source of sustainable aviation biofuels, finds Norwegian report
Tue 28 Mar 2017 – Seaweed could become a promising source of biofuels for aviation if sustainably produced and economic and policy challenges can be overcome, says a report by Norwegian NGO Bellona. Seaweeds, or macroalgae, generally contain high amounts of carbohydrates (sugars) that make them highly suitable for bioethanol and biobutanol production, where the sugars are fermented. They belong to the fastest growing species in the world and growth rates far exceed those of terrestrial plants, plus the rapid growth also means they absorb significant amounts of CO2. Most importantly, they do not compete for valuable land space or fresh water during cultivation as do many crops grown for biofuels. Industrial seaweed cultivation, where it is mainly used in food production and pharmaceuticals, is largely confined to Asia whereas in Europe it is in the very early development phase. However, says the report, there is a golden opportunity to design a high-potential sustainable aviation biofuel industry effectively from scratch.
This is especially the case in Norway, whose coastline stretches 21,000km, equivalent to 2.5 times around the equator, and encompassing an area of 9 million hectares. The temperate waters that stretch from Portugal to Norway are also highly suited to certain species of brown kelp seaweed, in particular sugar kelp.
“Seaweeds are a large and diverse group of plants, some of which, like sugar kelp, could be a promising source of ocean-based biofuels,” said the author of the report, Marika Andersen. “Any potential use naturally depends on sustainable management, a better understanding of local environmental impacts and the life cycle emissions. But climate science is clear that we need to consider all alternatives to fossil fuels, and Bellona believes seaweed may be an untapped option.”
With a water content of 85-90%, seaweeds are particularly suitable for wet fuel conversion methods such as anaerobic digestion and fermentation. The carbohydrates are mainly glucose, galactose and mannitol. The low lignin content of seaweed eliminates many of the challenges faced by wood-based bioethanol producers, as lignin hardens the cell walls and requires pre-treatment before fermentation. Also, as compared to forest/woody biomass, seaweeds’ higher growth rate means there is a higher turnover rate and they could theoretically be cultivated inexhaustibly.
Giant kelp grows faster than bamboo at about 7-14cm per day – even up to half a metre under ideal conditions – with sugar kelp grown in UK waters being shown to grow 1.1cm per day, equivalent to reaching over 2.25m in a year. Average productivity of wild seaweed ranges between 3-11kg/sqm dry weight (dried seaweed retains about 10-30% of the original wet seaweed’s weight) and up to 13kg/sqm for cultivated seaweed per year. For comparison, one of land’s most productive crops, sugar cane, reaches yields between 6-9.5kg/sqm wet weight per year.
One hectare of seaweed can fix about 66t of CO2 from the atmosphere. Depending on the species, it will take between 10-100 years before the CO2 in a combusted tree is recaptured in regrowth. For seaweed, taking about six months to mature, it absorbs CO2 at a much quicker rate and the carbon released from its combustion is thereby sooner reabsorbed.
Furthermore, seaweed is incredibly efficient at taking up nutrients such as nitrogen and increasingly scarce phosphorus, which it absorbs with comparable efficiency to a waste-water treatment plant. This eliminates the need for fertilisation and, in fact, cultivation of seaweeds in practice means recapturing nutrients into biomass that in turn can be reused for fertilisation purposes. When cultivation is located in proximity to fish farms, seaweed can use the excess, otherwise wasted, nutrients and thereby ensure recycling and cleaning of the surrounding waters.
Despite the many positives that marine biofuel feedstocks can bring to overcome the sustainability issues faced by land-based biomass, the report says that more research is required to improve understanding of the consequences of embarking on industrial-scale marine biomass production. There is also a lacking of research into the potential life-cycle assessment of seaweed biofuel emissions, and the report recommends studies should be undertaken based on real-world pilot and eventually large scale seaweed-for-energy cultivation. However, integrated seawater production is important, it adds, for example by sharing offshore infrastructure like wind farms and fish farms.
About half of the sugars in seaweed are locked in a single carbohydrate – alginate – which is currently one of the biggest drivers of the seaweed industry and is widely used in the food sector where it is applied as a stabiliser or an emulsifier, for example in dairy products like ice cream. The main producers are in Scotland, Norway, China and the USA, with smaller amounts being produced in Japan, Chile and France.
In spite of the huge market requirement from industries like aviation for biofuels, the report notes seaweed biofuel production is today the product with the lowest earning potential for seaweed production, a common obstacle the sector faces. Typical prices for seaweed reach up to €1,000 per kg for bioactives in the pharmaceutical industry.
“The goal must therefore be to implement incentives, reduce costs and to increase the profitability of seaweed production for energy purposes,” said Andersen. “Because the other uses of seaweed garner such high value, overcoming the fragmentation of the seaweed value chain by establishing an advanced biorefining industry can help achieve this.”
Dealing with the challenges in the production phase holds the potential to dramatically improve cost profiles, she says. However, there are other challenges, not least the perception that the seaweed cultivation industry is low-tech and fails to attract the human and capital investment that would drive down costs.
Bringing seaweed biofuels to market will require concerted effort along the entire value chain, demanding more strategic collaboration between the involved sectors, says the report, adding the aviation industry must also invest in the capacity to produce and use such fuels.
Addressing European policymakers, the report says they must develop long-term market conditions and implement incentives, at least until 2030, that provide predictability of risk to those who invest in the seaweed cultivation business. Earlier generations of biofuels should be phased out and curbed, and with no other decarbonisation options, the aviation sector must receive priority for the limited sustainable biofuels available, it concludes.
“If sustainably produced and used, seaweed could be an available, scalable and productive energy resource,” commented Andersen. “This report calls on policymakers to consider seaweed as an alternative to fossil fuels, especially for sectors like aviation that can’t readily switch to batteries.”
The study was funded by a grant from Norwegian state-owned airport operator and air navigation service provider Avinor. By 2030, Avinor has targeted that 30% of all jet fuel sold in Norway should be sustainable alternative fuel, which will require 350-400 million litres of jet biofuel annually.
“We are totally dependent on aviation in Norway. Avinor’s clear goal is to be a driving force in the work on climate and environmental challenges within our industry. This includes a significant engagement in developing and phasing in sustainable alternative fuels in the aviation industry,” said Olav Mosvold Larsen, Senior Advisor at Avinor. “I think this report is very interesting and illustrates the potential of utilising marine resources for aviation fuel in the future.”
Bellona report ‘Opportunities and Risks of Seaweed Biofuels in Aviation’
Vienna Airport appeals to Austria’s highest courts over ruling that a new runway would violate climate law
Fri 24 Mar 2017 – Vienna Airport has filed an appeal to Austria’s highest courts over a ruling by a lower federal court that a new third runway would violate the country’s climate protection laws. The airport operator, Flughafen Wien, has lodged a complaint with the Austrian Constitutional Court arguing the ruling violates its guaranteed rights and freedoms to carry on a business. It has also filed an extraordinary appeal with the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court that the ruling contained serious procedural violations, inconsistent reasoning and was materially unlawful. In its judgment handed down last month, the Federal Administrative Court ruled the positive economic benefits of the airport expansion were outweighed by the potential harm to the public interest from climate change caused by higher carbon emissions as a result of increased flights. However, the airport argues national climate protection law specifically excludes CO2 emissions from flight traffic and it is anyhow only responsible for its own CO2 emissions.
The Federal Administrative Court said in its ruling a third runway would increase Austria’s annual CO2 emissions by between 1.79% and 2.02% by 2025, against the country’s 2020 transport sector emissions reduction target of 2.25% (see article). This would be contrary to national and international obligations, it found, and the short-term commercial and employment gains were outweighed by the likely economic consequences of a destabilised climate. The court also said the airport’s own actions to reduce emissions were insufficient to offset the growth of aircraft emissions from increased airline traffic.
Announcing the appeal, a member of Flughafen Wien’s Management Board, Julian Jäger, argued the court decision had been indecisive and contradictory.
“On the one hand, the court found that there would be further passenger growth at Vienna Airport, and that there is a need for an additional runway for aircraft to take off and land. However, it does not deal with the issue of where this need will be diverted if the runway is not built,” he said. Such a scenario would lead passengers to use neighbouring airports so not a single gram of CO2 would be saved, he maintained.
“CO2 emissions in aviation must be seen on a global scale and can only be regulated by international agreements. These precise regulations already exist. However, as a result of the court decision, about 30,000 jobs will not be created, extensive damage will be done to Austria as a business location and the environment will not benefit at all.”
The airport operator claims the court had also ignored EU law (Commission Regulation (EU) No 1031 / 2010) that stipulates CO2 emissions from aircraft are not to be assigned to the CO2 emissions of the airport. Under the EU Emissions Trading System, it is aircraft operators and not airports that have to present the requisite certificates, it pointed out. In addition, it argues that under existing national regulations, CO2 emissions from flight traffic are not to be included in efforts to meet Austria’s emissions reduction targets.
“Moreover, when the court refers to Austria’s climate protection law, this explicitly documents an inconceivable and arbitrary interpretation of the law,” it added. “The Austrian Climate Protection Act is only valid until the year 2020, whereas the third runway would be put into operation after 2025.
“But above all, the Austrian Climate Protection Act is not to be called upon as the basis for project approvals, but is a programme act without an external impact. In this case, the court has overtaken lawmakers and is trying to create a body of law on its own, which is diametrically opposed to valid legal regulations passed by legislators.”
The court had also failed to recognise that climate change and CO2 emissions were a global phenomenon, it said, and the global climate could not be influenced by preventing a third runway being built in Vienna at a time when around 400 airports around the world were either being newly built or expanding.
“Furthermore, the court failed to understand that obligations arising from international climate protection agreements relate to individual countries and the EU, and cannot be directly applied to individual projects without the corresponding legal underpinnings,” it added.
It also accuses the court of ignoring the “intensive” measures the airport had undertaken to mitigate its own CO2 emissions, noting it had achieved a 30% reduction in recent years, corresponding to a saving of 14,000 tonnes of CO2.
“In the light of numerous illegalities, the inconceivable interpretation of laws and the massive violation of procedural rules, especially the right to be heard, we have confidence in the proper functioning of the rule of law in Austria, and have grounds for optimism with respect to the decisions to be handed down by the highest courts in the country,” concluded Günther Ofner, another member of the Board.
Vienna Airport – Third runway project
NATS and IAA extend XMAN initiative to reduce Heathrow holding stacks for flights through Irish airspace
Fri 24 Mar 2017 – The air traffic management system to reduce the fuel-intensive and polluting holding stacks of aircraft arriving into London’s Heathrow Airport, the busiest hub in Europe, has now been fully extended to include flights travelling through Irish airspace. First trialled by UK air navigation service provider (ANSP) NATS in 2014, the XMAN (Cross-Border Arrival Management) system aims to instruct pilots to slow down the speed of their aircraft up to 350 nautical miles from Heathrow to avoid delays and unnecessary fuel burn. NATS, which has also been collaborating with ANSPs in France and the Netherlands, says XMAN is so far delivering over 4,700 tonnes of fuel savings for airlines annually, representing nearly 15,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. It is a key concept of the Single European Sky initiative, which will require 24 airports across Europe to deploy XMAN procedures by 2024.
Before XMAN, air traffic controllers could only influence the speed of an aircraft once it was within the NATS network, just 80nm from Heathrow, so the ability to manage inbound traffic flows was limited. Now, a pilot can be instructed by a controller in the Maastricht control centre in the southern Netherlands to lose a few knots of airspeed through the aircraft’s flight management system.
Under the collaboration with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), new air traffic management functionality is now delivering information on Heathrow delays directly to radar screens in the IAA’s Shannon en-route control centre. IAA controllers can then easily identify when delays are forecast and pro-actively coordinate the Heathrow inbound traffic.
“With approximately 15% of all Heathrow arrivals travelling through Irish airspace, it was important to make it as easy as possible for Irish controllers to help manage traffic flows into Heathrow and we have worked closely together through the UK-Ireland FAB to achieve that,” said Pete Dawson, General Manager London Terminal Control at NATS. “This forms part of our longer-term strategy to minimise the use of holding stacks at Heathrow and shows the importance both parties place on cross-border collaboration to improve the service offered to customers.”
Added Peter Kearney, Director of Operations and Strategy at IAA: “The IAA is extremely pleased to fully implement XMAN as part of our en-route service. We recognise the important fuel, CO2 and cost savings that this will deliver for our customers as they transit from Irish airspace towards arrival at Heathrow. We have also been very conscious of the important benefit for passengers through reduced delays at Heathrow associated with our shared efforts through XMAN.”
XMAN is part of a broader FABEC (Functional Airspace Block Europe Central) and UK-Ireland FAB project aimed at implementing Extended Arrival Management for airports within and close to FABEC airspace. It has been developed by NATS and partnering ANSPs within the Single European Skies ATM Research Programme (SESAR).
NATS – Environment , Irish Aviation Authority – Air Traffic Management
Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia attract international interest in developing homegrown jet biofuels
Wed 22 Mar 2017 – A year after issuing a joint Request for Information (RFI) from parties interested in supporting the development and production of sustainable aviation fuel in the region, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia say they have had strong interest both locally and from abroad. The airlines have now completed an extensive review of more than 30 responses from organisations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe and the United States. When announcing the RFI, the airline partners said that while the aviation biofuel development was accelerating internationally, it was not the case in their region. A roadmap report published in 2011 by the Australian government science research agency CSIRO found that by 2020 a 5% bio-derived jet fuel share could be possible in Australia and New Zealand, expanding to 40% by 2050. Despite both airlines having engaged in a number of early alternative fuel initiatives, progress so far has been slow however.
Despite Air New Zealand selling off its remaining shareholding in Virgin Australia since the RFI was issued in March 2016, the two airlines remain committed to continuing with their trans-Tasman alliance. Following the completion of their RFI, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia say they will now work with short-listed companies “on strengthening the commercial case for investment.”
Lisa Daniell, Air New Zealand’s Head of Sustainability, reported the airlines had achieved key objectives in testing market readiness and gaining a better understanding of potential supply opportunities.
“The RFI has helped stimulate industry dialogue on the production of sustainable aviation fuel in the Australasian region,” she said. “Importantly, the process has also greatly expanded our understanding of the technologies and processes involved and the potential timeframes to scale up to the volumes required.”
A world-first use of sustainable aviation fuel, Air New Zealand carried out a two-hour test flight in December 2008 that used a 50/50 blend of fuel made from jatropha oil sourced from Africa and India in one of the four engines of the Boeing 747. Following the flight, the carrier said it was aiming for sustainable biofuels to make up a significant proportion of its jet fuel needs by 2013 (see article).
Virgin Australia too has had ambitions to be an early adopter of sustainable fuels, with involvement in three initiatives.
It was part of a University of Queensland led project to undertake a detailed analysis of a potential renewable jet fuel industry in the state from three biomass sources – sugar cane, pongamia and algae.
In 2011, it joined a consortium that planned to use fast pyrolysis technology to process malleees, a eucalypt tree that can be grown sustainably in many parts of Australia, and develop a commercial-scale production facility in Western Australia. That same year, the airline also entered into a partnership with Australian biofuel company Licella, which aimed to use a water technology based process to produce high-quality biocrude oil from a wide range of biomass sources, including agricultural and farm waste. Licella said at the time it was looking to produce around 500,000 barrels a year of its oil by 2016.
Following the results of the RFI, Virgin Australia said it remains optimistic about the potential of biofuels to achieve significant carbon emission reductions in the medium-term.
“There is clear interest and potential to produce sustainable aviation fuel in this region, and we will now undertake further detailed exploration in order to reach significant commercial scale,” said the airline’s Head of Sustainability, Robert Wood.
Air New Zealand – Sustainability , Virgin Australia – Renewable Jet Fuel
Using aviation biofuels could reduce aircraft engine pollutants and non-CO2 climate impacts, find scientists
Mon 20 Mar 2017 – Using biofuels to help power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 per cent and so can help reduce contrail formations that produce climate warming effects, say research scientists led by NASA. The findings, published in the journal Nature, follow a series of flight tests undertaken in 2013 and 2014 as part of the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions Study, or ACCESS, in which NASA partnered with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the National Research Council Canada (NRC). The tests involved flying NASA’s workhorse DC-8 as high as 40,000 feet while its four engines burned a 50/50 blend of conventional jet fuel mixed with camelina-derived biofuel. A trio of research aircraft took turns to fly behind the aircraft at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 20 miles to take measurements and study contrail formation.
Contrails, which are composed primarily of water in the form of ice crystals, are produced by aerosol emissions from the hot aircraft engine exhaust mixing with ice-supersaturated cold air typical at cruise altitudes.
“Soot emissions are a major driver of contrail properties and their formation,” said Bruce Anderson, ACCESS project scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “As a result, the observed particle reductions we’ve measured during ACCESS should directly translate into reduced ice crystal concentrations in contrails, which in turn should help minimise their impact on Earth’s environment.”
Persistent contrails create long-lasting, and sometimes extensive, thin cirrus clouds that would not normally form in the atmosphere and trap outgoing longwave radiation, a climate warming effect known as radiative forcing.
Although there has been progress in determining the true impact of contrails from jet engine emissions, uncertainties remain over the extent. Scientists are sure though that they are responsible for a significant climate warming effect, with NASA going as far as to say the impact on the atmosphere has been larger than all the aviation-related carbon dioxide emissions since the first-ever powered flight.
The authors of the Nature report say modelling studies of the present and future effects of aviation on the climate require detailed information about the number of aerosol particles emitted per kilogram of fuel burned and the microphysical properties of those aerosols that are relevant for cloud formation. However, they point out, previous observational data at cruise altitudes are sparse for engines burning conventional fuels, and no data had previously been reported for biofuel use in-flight.
“This was the first time we have quantified the amount of soot particles emitted by jet engines while burning a 50/50 blend of biofuel in flight,” said Rich Moore, lead author.
The ACCESS programme had two phases, and in the first a heavily instrumented NASA HU-25 Guardian aircraft measured chemical components from the NASA DC-8’s exhaust. In the second phase, the trailing aircraft also included a Falcon 20-E5 jet owned by DLR and a CT-133 jet provided by NRC.
“Measurements in the wake of aircraft require highly experienced crew members and proven measuring equipment, which DLR has built up over many years,” said co-author Hans Schlager of the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics. “Since 2000, the DLR Falcon has been used in numerous measurement campaigns to investigate the emissions and contrails of commercial airliners.”
The observations from the programme quantify the impact of biofuel blending on aerosol emissions at cruise emissions and provide key microphysical parameters, which will be useful to assess the potential of biofuel use in aviation as a viable strategy to mitigate climate change, say the authors.
The researchers add they plan to continue their studies to understand and demonstrate the potential benefits of replacing current fuels in aircraft with biofuels, and NASA says it aims to employ biofuels on its proposed supersonic X-plane.
NASA Aeronautics Research , DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics , National Research Council Canada
COMMENTARY: Forest carbon offsets under CORSIA can offer a win-win for airlines, society and the planet
Tue 14 Mar 2017 – The global carbon offsetting scheme reached by ICAO in October 2016 is a highly commendable achievement that provides a starting point to drive change in the aviation industry over the coming decades. The deal is not without its detractors from within the environmental community but it does provide an unprecedented opportunity to save threatened forests and significantly narrow the existing emissions gap for achieving a safe climate, writes Jessica Verhagen of Ecosphere+. The rules for offsets under the ICAO Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) scheme are under development, including the types of offsets that will be accepted. Forest carbon offsets can offer the most effective climate solution the world has today to materially reduce emissions, and is easily understood by consumers.
These offsets can also supply the volume that the aviation industry needs to meet its emission reduction targets at reasonable costs with environmental integrity as well as a multitude of additional benefits, including poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation and improved water and food security. This provides the airline sector with the ability to deliver a material climate change solution as well as contribute to wider United Nations sustainable development goals that can only strengthen CORSIA.
At COP21 in Paris, 195 governments agreed the ambitious goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. This is what is necessary to keep our climate within ‘safe’ limits, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 5th Assessment report. While the governments of nearly every country on earth have made ambitious pledges to cut emissions, there is still a significant gap in what’s needed.
In order to achieve holding global temperature rise to no more than 2°C, the world must reduce an additional 12-17 GtCO2e by 2030 on top of the country climate commitments made in Paris, according to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2016. This ‘emissions gap’ makes clear that significant action from the private sector is needed. By agreeing CORSIA, the aviation industry has taken steps towards curbing emissions from international aviation and playing its part in closing the emissions gap, despite the sector not being mentioned in the Paris Agreement.
The potential of forests
Sustainable land use, which includes agriculture and forestry, could deliver about one third of the required near-term emission reductions that are required. It will be impossible to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2°C without stopping the current dramatic deforestation and degradation of forests as well as transforming unsustainable forestry and agricultural practices. Halting deforestation is the largest and most cost-effective immediate opportunity to reduce global emissions.
Photosynthesis, the natural process of plants taking in CO2 and releasing oxygen to make their own food, is the oldest technology in the world. And it is available today without the need for years of expensive research or engineering experimentation; it just needs the right focus. To realise this potential, one key ingredient is missing: a value on forests left standing, a reason to keep trees in the ground. Whilst this sector has enormous potential in terms of climate change mitigation and sustainable development, it only receives around 5% of public climate finance and does not benefit from strong policies in the way the energy sector does. This makes the private sector critical. The airline industry could provide the necessary demand and investment to make significant headway. Surely this opportunity cannot be ignored? Once the forests are gone, it is likely forever, and the remaining carbon budget yet more challenging.
In terms of volume, emissions reductions from land use, which includes agriculture and forestry, have the potential to mitigate a massive 2.4 - 8.5 GtCO2e, with a further 12 GtCO2e possible by 2030.
The airline demand for offsets
The demand for offsets from CORSIA is substantive. It is estimated by ICAO that airlines will generate an offset demand of 288 to 376 MtCO2e/year by 2030. By comparison, the volume of offsets used in the EU ETS averaged approximately 202 MtCO2e over the period 2008-2012, according to analysis by the European Commission. So from a standing start, airlines will need access to offsets very quickly. At the same time, demand for offsets is also increasing from other sectors as countries implement their Paris commitments.
Forest carbon has the capacity to provide a high quality volume of offsets to address this demand. Forest conservation is also one of the most cost-effective types of carbon offsets, behind only wind and run-of-river hydropower, and has the largest volume transacted within the existing voluntary carbon markets. The evidence is clear that forest carbon offsets have huge potential to meet the coming demand for offsets from CORSIA at a competitive price.
High quality forest carbon offsets are a well-established approach to achieving emissions reductions. But that isn’t all. Forests provide a host of additional benefits to ecosystems and communities around the world – beyond climate goals.
Forest carbon offsets offer real carbon mitigation and their inclusion in the Paris Agreement puts an official stamp of approval on them. The climate deal represents an internationally negotiated and agreed-upon framework for sustainable land use management and forest conservation. Governments worldwide recognise forests as an effective climate mitigation strategy, and land use was included in 119 of the 162 carbon mitigation plans submitted by countries as part of the agreement.
The ICAO Assembly resolution that established CORSIA explicitly recognised the tools for mitigating emissions included in the Paris Agreement, such as REDD+ and the existing Clean Development Mechanism, a previous UN initiative through which countries purchase emissions reductions from developing countries. Additionally, these offsets will need to meet the ‘emission unit criteria’ that is currently being developed by ICAO.
Forest conservation projects that deliver clear carbon benefits have come a long way in the last two decades and there are now well-practiced and robust methods for ensuring emissions savings are permanent. For example, projects first perform detailed risk assessments to understand the threats to the forest. Secondly, a buffer system is introduced that acts like an insurance mechanism. If forest land is then found to be lost (as part of the intensive monitoring process), the corresponding number of offsets in this buffer are retired, meaning they are never placed on the market, ensuring the integrity of the offsets that are finally issued.
Stringent standards also put safeguards in place to prevent leakage, which in this case means the risk that deforestation is moved outside a project area, similar to the threat that refineries and other energy intensive industries would move outside of Europe once the EU ETS came along. To avoid and account for this in forest conservation projects, a detailed risk assessment informs a leakage mitigation strategy. The risk areas are then monitored and any leakage is deducted from the emissions performance of the project. Countries are also working on national and jurisdictional level systems to account for every tonne of forest carbon; in time bottom-up projects can ‘nest’ into these top-down systems.
Beyond carbon benefits, forest carbon projects also deliver a range of other environmental and social benefits, often referred to as co-benefits, especially when compared to carbon reductions in other sectors such as land-fill gas management. These include protecting biodiversity-rich primary forest, creating sustainable livelihoods for impoverished local communities, providing climate resilience to sustainably produced crops, as well as a range of ecosystem services such as mitigating flooding, reducing soil erosion and conserving water resources. For example, UNEP estimates tropical forests provide food, water, fuel and medicine to 1.6 billion people. Because of this, forest carbon projects are one of the most volume transacted offset types on the voluntary carbon market.
It is also for these reasons that forests are easy to explain to the public, including airline passengers, as a worthwhile activity for airlines to invest in. They have already featured in voluntary airline offset schemes, including those run by Delta and Qantas, as well as other voluntary schemes such as BP’s Target Neutral.
Ensuring high quality
Not all offset projects are created equally. Over the years, a handful of poorly designed and executed forest carbon and other projects have had negative impacts on their local people and environment and, rightfully, have received a bad press. However, these are not representative of common practice. They do not prove that saving forests is not a climate solution that brings sustainable development to local communities and protects a host of critical environmental services.
It is standard for forest carbon offset project developers to verify the emissions reductions and additional benefits through independent third parties. The Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance are leaders on carbon accounting and co-benefits respectively. They have detailed and sophisticated requirements to ensure that projects certified by them have lasting benefits and maintain environmental integrity.
ICAO is working to define the types of offsets that will be accepted as part of the emission unit criteria and what can be used for ‘early action’. The rules for early action should provide further certainty next year on offset vintages and project types that will enable airlines to start investing in offsets. Carbon offsets for CORSIA must come from reliable, well-established, cost-efficient sources in order for ICAO to be successful in meeting the scheme’s climate targets.
It is clear that forests offer an opportunity for the aviation industry in many respects; they are well-positioned and immediately available to fulfil the demand; and are a real win-win for companies, society and the planet.
The author, Jessica Verhagen, is VP Business Development and Strategy for Ecosphere+. Founded by the Althelia Climate Fund, the company offers scalable and diverse supply, and innovative structures, for different types of forest carbon offsets and sustainably produced commodities that deliver additional environmental and social benefits.