Growth of carbon emissions from European flights slowed in 2019 but still against downward trend in other industrial sectors
Thu 7 May 2020 – Aviation emissions covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) rose by 1% in 2019, as against an overall decrease of 9% from stationary installations. However, the European Commission described the increase from 67.49 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018 to 68.14 Mt last year as significantly smaller than in previous years. Analysis by the Commission shows 46% of 2019 emissions were covered by free allocations of allowances to aircraft operators. With IATA forecasting a potential 55% fall in total 2020 European revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) as a result of Covid-19, many airlines may not need to buy any allowances this year. Meanwhile, only a few airlines have so far been required to agree environmental conditions as part of bailouts by EU states, which are largely business-as-usual targets.
According to the Commission, 500 aircraft operators replied and complied with the EU ETS in 2019, including more than 100 commercial aircraft operators based outside the EU that operate flights within the European Economic Area. It said compliance was very high, despite the difficulties of reporting verified emissions and surrendering allowances during the Covid-19 crisis, with non-compliant operators being typically small or who had ceased operating.
Verified GHG emissions from stationary installations, such as power plants and manufacturing, reduced considerably in 2019. This meant Europe’s biggest airline in terms of passenger numbers, Ryanair, which had become the first airline to join the top ten list of highest EU emitters in 2018, climbed the table in 2019. Taken from EU Transaction Log data, Ryanair’s verified emissions in 2019 amounted to 10.45 Mt (excluding standalone Polish business Ryanair Sun, which emitted 78,000 tonnes CO2 in 2019) an increase of 5.8% over the previous year and making up over 15% of all aviation emissions covered by the EU ETS.
Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) said aviation EU ETS emissions have grown 28% since 2013, whereas the remaining other sectors had declined by 20%.
“Airline emissions continued their upward trajectory while other sectors continued to decarbonise,” commented Andrew Murphy, Aviation Director at T&E. “That trend will resume post-crisis unless governments act now to rein in their pollution.”
In an op-ed for The European Files, Green MEP Karima Delli, who is Chair of the European Parliament’s transport committee (TRAN), said as part of the EU ETS revision in 2021, aviation should be fully included and the emissions cap allocated to airlines be reduced. She also called for the EU ETS ‘stop the clock’ mechanism in place that temporarily excludes flights to and from destinations outside Europe be terminated. She said the mechanism had been renewed several times since being adopted in 2012 pending an international solution being reached at ICAO but progress had been “stagnating, or at least moving far too slowly”.
“We should therefore consider coming back to the original scope of the EU ETS for aviation, i.e. covering the aviation sector as a whole, including international flights,” she argued.
T&E is campaigning for the airline industry to be taxed on fuel and passenger tickets. Along with two other NGOs, Greenpeace and Carbon Market Watch, it is also calling on EU governments to link Covid-19 bailouts to binding environmental conditions. According to their ‘Airline bailout tracker’ posted last week (April 30), they estimate governments have agreed €11.5 billion ($12.2bn) in financial aid, with a further €14.6 billion under discussion. None of that has so far come with binding commitments, they said.
As part of its rescue package, Air France must significantly reduce domestic flights where there is a rail alternative with a duration of less than 2.5 hours or otherwise limited to hub transfers, said French finance minister Bruno Le Maire. Domestic flights accounted for just 6% of the airline’s available seat kilometres (ASKs) in 2019. Other actions the government wishes to see the airline make include a halving of overall CO2 emissions per passenger-km by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. However, this is a commitment already made by the airline in its Horizon 2030 programme. Le Maire is also calling for the CO2 reduction target for domestic flights to be met by the end of 2024, along with fleet renewal with more efficient aircraft and a requirement for the airline’s jet fuel to be made up of 2% SAF by 2025. The SAF target is already part of a roadmap launched by the government just in January (see article).
The Dutch government is reportedly calling for a reduction in night flights by KLM as part of its bailout package. Austria’s environment minister, a member of the Green Party, said bailout money should be linked to climate targets, with options under consideration including a reduction in short-haul flights, increased cooperation with rail companies, heavier use of biofuels and bigger tax contributions.
“France’s green requests are a first but we had non-binding commitments for years and airline pollution ballooned,” commented T&E’s Murphy. “Marginally more efficient planes won’t put a dent in emissions if airlines still burn fossil fuels that they buy tax-free. Governments should require the industry to take up greener fuels and pay taxes like the rest of us.”
Lorelei Limousin, Greenpeace EU climate campaigner, added: “If the European Green Deal means something, short-haul flights have to go and investments need to roll out more clean alternatives like trains.”
A group of 10 Green MEPs on the European Parliament’s transport committee, including Karima Dalli, has written to the Commission’s President, Ursula von der Leyen, calling for an environmental linkage to state aid.
Commented German Green MEP Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg: “There is no doubt that the aviation industry is in a unique crisis. However, this does not release the airlines from their ecological and social responsibility. That is why I strongly advocate linking the state aid to airlines with conditions.
“The Commission must not limit itself to a spectator role. There must be no going back to ‘business as usual’. In a social and ecological sense, the Commission must actively contribute to the future orientation of the aviation industry.”
Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmerman, who is responsible for the European Green Deal, told the Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) on April 21 that he is in favour of including green conditions to state bailouts. Fellow EVP Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for EU competition, welcomed the French government’s requirement for Air France to curb its emissions but said it was not a Commission consideration when approving state aid. “Member States are free to design measures in line with their policy objectives and EU rules,” she said.
Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean told EURACTIV that this was the wrong time to condition state aid for airlines facing bankruptcy on taking green measures.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue last week, Germany’s environment minister agreed this was not the right time to be imposing green conditions on bailouts for airlines, which required quick and targeted help, but added that in the post-Covid-19 recovery phase there would be “a compass of climate action and social progress” aligned with the Paris Agreement and climate neutrality objectives.
Also taking part, Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and an advisor to the COP26 UK presidency, warned against discriminating against specific industries such as airlines.
“Of course energy companies and airlines are going to have to change but you don’t try to wipe them out in the weeks of rescue,” he said. “What you do is protect employment and then you move to the encouragement of the change.”
Answering a question over bailout linkage at a virtual evidence session of the UK House of Commons’ transport committee yesterday, Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of trade body Airlines UK, said: “We don't support any environmental conditions as the UK aviation industry has already committed to net zero emissions by 2050, which is in line with government targets. A roadmap has been set out which shows the way we can achieve this. We need support from government to keep our aviation system alive and if we have anything like the growth that we were projecting before this crisis then we will deliver net zero emissions – that is our commitment.”
Surprising support for linking aviation industry bailouts to climate action came from Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye. He said it was “absolutely right” that the UK government should follow the lead taken by certain other EU countries.
He told MPs: “I do agree that any company that is getting a government bailout should have conditions around decarbonising their business. Many of those companies in need of financial support, not just in aviation, are in carbon-intensive sectors so this is an opportunity to accelerate that change in our economy and for the UK to take a lead.”
He said there had been early warning signs about the Covid-19 pandemic that were not heeded and during the global financial crisis the focus had been solely on the economy. “We need to make sure this doesn’t happen with climate change and we will need to build back better,” he said.
“There should be a focus around developing sustainable aviation fuel production plants in areas of the UK where there is a huge opportunity for regeneration. This is the right time for this kind of investment and the government can help. We should try to double the use of SAF every year and if we can do that then we can beat the UK aviation industry net-zero target.”
Asked whether the crisis had “blown a massive hole” in the business case for a controversial new runway at Heathrow, Holland-Kaye responded: “My focus is firmly on protecting jobs and our business – I'm not thinking about the third runway. However, if in 10 or 15 years’ time we have been successful in rebooting the UK economy and getting it back to full strength then I do think we will need the third runway at that point.”
In a letter to the UK Prime Minister this week, the government’s independent advisory Committee on Climate Change set out key principles on how climate policy could play a part in a resilient post-Covid recovery. It argues that many sectors do not currently bear the full costs of emitting GHG emissions and recommends revenues could be boosted by setting or raising carbon prices, with low global oil prices providing an opportunity without hurting consumers.
Many aviation industry insiders do not see a recovery to pre-pandemic levels for at least two to three years. Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury goes further and predicts it could be as long as five years, calling the crisis the gravest ever facing the aerospace sector.