GREENAIR NEWSLETTER 10 DECEMBER 2020
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United Airlines commits to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 through carbon capture technology investment
Thu 10 Dec 2020 – United Airlines has ramped up its 2018 pledge to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050 by announcing a new ambitious commitment to a 100 per cent reduction by the same year. In an industry first, the US airline says it will meet its carbon neutrality goal through a multimillion-dollar investment in Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology rather than purchasing carbon credits to offset residual emissions. The investment is being made in 1PointFive, a partnership between Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental, and Rusheen Capital Management, which is using technology licensed from Carbon Engineering in the first industrial-sized DAC plant in the United States. United has already invested $30 million in sustainable aviation fuel producer Fulcrum BioEnergy, the single largest investment in SAF production by any airline globally.
“As the leader of one of the world’s largest airlines, I recognise our responsibility in contributing to fight climate change, as well as our responsibility to solve it,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “These game-changing technologies will significantly reduce our emissions and measurably reduce the speed of climate change – because buying carbon offsets alone is not enough. Perhaps most importantly, we’re not just doing it to meet our own sustainability goal, we’re doing it to drive the positive change our industry requires so that every airline can eventually join us and do the same.”
DAC technology, says the airline, is one of the few proven ways to physically correct for aircraft emissions and can scale to capture millions, and potentially billions, of tonnes of CO2 per year. The first 1PointFive plant is expected to capture and permanently sequester one million tonnes of CO2 each year (currently, the world’s largest DAC facilities have the capacity to capture several thousand tonnes of CO2 per year), the equivalent work of 40 million trees, claims the company, yet covering a land area around 3,000 times smaller.
The captured CO2 will then be stored deep underground in geological formations by Occidental and the process certified by independent third parties. Occidental has been permanently storing CO2 for more than 40 years, with nearly 20 million tonnes sequestered in its operations annually. The company has two US EPA-approved monitoring, reporting and verification plans to validate the integrity, transparency and permanence of the entire sequestration process. Its contribution to the venture includes engineering, project development and other technology performance assistance that will provide support for the development and financing of the DAC plant.
The exact location for the plant has not yet been revealed except that it is in the Texas Permian Basin, with a land footprint of around 100 acres (40 hectares). 1PointFive announced in August that the plant was in the design and development phase with the final front-end engineering design slated to begin in the first quarter of 2021 and construction expected to start in 2022. The company says the venture has been enabled by market policies such as the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard and Federal 45Q tax credit.
“Assessments by major organisations such as the IPCC and the National Academy of Sciences are increasingly clear that to avoid the dangerous impacts of climate change, we will need to remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere,” said 1PointFive CEO Jim McDermott. “A global DAC industry will be key to achieving this. It will also bring significant economic benefits, leading to the development of new industries and thousands of jobs.”
United believes sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), with up to 80% less lifecycle carbon emissions than conventional fuel, remains the fastest and most effective way to reduce its emissions. It holds more than 50% of all publicly announced future SAF purchase commitments among airlines globally. Last year, United renewed its contract with World Energy, agreeing to purchase up to 10 million gallons of “cost-competitive” SAF.
The airline has longest history of using SAF in the US and has been powering every flight departing its Los Angeles hub since 2016, carrying 26 million passengers on 215,000 flights powered by a SAF blend. In 2019 it committed $40 million towards an investment initiative focused on accelerating the development of SAF and other decarbonisation technologies. Earlier this month, the Carbon Disclosure Project named United as the only airline globally to its 2020 ‘A List’ for the airline’s actions to cut emissions, mitigate climate risks and help develop the low-carbon economy, marking the seventh consecutive year that United had the highest CDP score among US carriers.
“When I became United Airlines’ new CEO at the beginning of the pandemic, I did so with a grand vision for our company: to make sustainability the new standard in flight,” said Kirby in an open letter on LinkedIn. “I realise it’s an ambitious vision for someone in an industry that depends on burning fossil fuels to operate. As the leader of one of the world’s largest airlines, I recognise our responsibility in contributing to climate change as well as our responsibility to solve it. It’s no longer enough for us to connect the world without making sure it has a future.”
Kirby said traditional carbon offsets did almost nothing to tackle the emissions from flying. “And, more importantly, they simply don’t meet the scale of this global challenge,” he added. “Carbon emissions have increased 4,000 times since the industrial revolution. It’s just not realistic to think we can plant enough trees to start bending that curve today.
“We’re embracing a new goal to be 100% green by 2050 by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 100%. And we’ll get there not with flashy, empty gestures, but by taking the harder, better path of actually reducing the emissions from flying. I believe the world and the airline industry has to be bolder.”
UK’s climate advisers recommend no net airport expansion without aviation industry progress to net zero
Wed 9 Dec 2020 – There should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its net emissions trajectory and can accommodate the additional demand, says the UK’s advisory Climate Change Committee (CCC). In a major report on recommended policies to achieve the UK’s overall net zero emissions by 2050 target, the CCC says demand management will be required to constrain UK aviation growth to 25% growth by 2050 from 2018 levels unless efficiency and sustainable aviation fuel take-up can be developed quicker than expected. The Committee also recommends emissions from international aviation be included in UK carbon budgets and the net zero target by next year. The UK should also work with ICAO to set a long-term emissions goal consistent with the Paris Agreement, strengthen CORSIA and align the scheme to this goal in 2023.
The policies for aviation are set out in the Committee’s advice to government on the nation’s Sixth Carbon Budget – the legal limit for UK net GHG emissions over the 2033-37 period. This will necessitate a requirement for an overall 78% reduction in UK emissions by 2035 relative to 1990, equivalent to a 63% reduction from 2019, which it says would place the UK on a path to net zero by 2050 at the latest.
On aviation, the Committee’s report acknowledges the UK industry’s commitment through its Sustainable Aviation coalition to the net-zero goal for 2050 although this is not yet a policy goal for the government, which is due to consult in 2021 on its intended Aviation Decarbonisation Strategy.
“Higher-level strategic gaps include the lack of formal inclusion of international emissions in UK carbon budgets and the net zero target, and the need for a sector emissions trajectory to inform demand management and airport capacity policies,” points out the Committee. “Further research is also needed on non-CO2 effects and potential mitigation options.”
UK government policy has been not to include emissions from international flights in the carbon budgets pending developments with UN negotiations on ICAO’s CORSIA scheme but the Committee is strongly recommending a change. The Chairman of the CCC, Lord Deben, told journalists ahead of the publication of the report that the UN structure demanded international emissions from aviation and shipping be excluded from Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.
“What the Committee is saying very clearly is that the UK government must take up the cudgels in order to include the emissions from these two sectors. If you don’t include them, then you are falsifying the fact when it comes to net zero, so we need to make that change,” he said. “We’ve really got to get aviation and shipping into the system, and pretty quickly.”
Existing UK aviation policy has been focused on establishing the Jet Zero Council with an ambition for zero-emissions commercial flight, match-funding for aircraft technology development and traded certificate price support for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO). Investments have also been made in a grant-funding competition for SAF production and the FlyZero aircraft technology initiative. There are also plans for a SAF clearing house to enable the UK to certify new fuels and a consultation on a SAF blending mandate for a potential start in 2025.
However, the RTFO inclusion is unlikely to drive significant development of renewable jet fuels and there is a lack of larger-scale deployment support and policy framework for these fuels, says the Committee. It advises the government to set out a policy package for supporting the near-term deployment of SAF facilities in the UK that may involve capital or loan guarantee support, and to transition to a more bespoke policy than the RTFO. A SAF blending mandate could ultimately provide more certainty to SAF plant investors than the RTFO, it believes. SAF facilities should have to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) or be built CCS-ready in order to maximise GHG savings, it adds, and SAF must meet strict sustainability standards.
The report says carbon pricing will be required to incentivise the transition to net zero although there are issues around equitable distribution of costs. Aviation fuel faces no taxes and international flights beyond EU borders are outside the scope of the EU ETS, so do not face a carbon price, it points out. The Committee noted that the recent citizens’ UK Climate Assembly favoured a frequent flyer levy to address fairness concerns.
The Committee proposes that in the long term, an economy-wide emissions trading scheme with a cap set to zero emissions would be a plausible way of balancing emissions and pricing carbon for sectors like aviation, so providing financial support for GHG emissions removals from, for example, woodland or peatland restoration, or engineered removals such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
Given expected developments in efficiency and SAF deployment, the Committee advises the government to implement a demand management policy to constrain UK aviation growth to 25% by 2050 from 2018 levels for the sector to contribute to the UK net zero goal. If efficiency and SAF develop quicker, it may be possible for demand growth to rise above 25%, provided that additional non-CO2 effects are acceptable or can be mitigated, it says.
“The government should assess its airport capacity strategy in the context of net zero and any lasting impacts on demand from Covid-19. Investments will need to be demonstrated to make economic sense in a net zero world and the transition towards it,” says the report.
“Unless faster than expected progress is made on aircraft technology and SAF deployment, such that the sector is outperforming its trajectory to net zero, current planned additional airport capacity would require capacity restrictions placed on other airports. Going forwards, there should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is assessed as being on track to sufficiently outperform a net emissions trajectory that is compatible with achieving net zero alongside the rest of the economy, and is able to accommodate the additional demand and still stay on track.”
Baroness Brown, Deputy Chair of the Committee, told journalists: “There is a limit on the aviation emissions we can afford so if it is crucial for our economy to have, say, more capacity in the airport system in London then that would mean reducing capacity elsewhere – it's about no net increase in the capacity. We do assume there can be some growth in aviation and we’ve looked very carefully at the conclusions of the Climate Assembly and the assumptions we have made are closely aligned with it on issues like aviation.
“The aviation industry is hugely important to this country and we consider there will be some very important advances in technology and synthetic fuels, and we are keen that the government supports their development. As you go forward in time, the benefits from improving aircraft efficiency will also start to outweigh the costs of reducing aviation emissions. It's not a gloomy story about aviation – there are opportunities but not for rampant growth in terms of flying, and certainly not in the short term until we have the solutions in place.”
On aviation’s non-CO2 effects, the report recommends work should be supported to reduce the scientific uncertainties and fund research into mitigation options. As a minimum goal, there should be no additional non-CO2 warming from aviation after 2050 and possibly earlier with a policy intervention.
“Alongside efforts at ICAO, the Aviation Decarbonisation Strategy and the package of domestic policies, plus parallel progress on a mechanism for deploying GHG removals in the UK, should put UK aviation emissions on track to contribute fully to meeting the Sixth Carbon Budget and the net zero target,” concludes the report.
Responding, Sustainable Aviation’s Programme Director, Andy Jefferson, commented: “We were the first national aviation group in the world to pledge to achieve net zero by 2050 in February of this year, and our members are fully committed to decarbonising aviation in line with global targets.
“We are currently assessing potential interim targets for 2030, and plan to announce this during 2021 once we have clarity on a range of dependent factors. This includes the trajectory of the post-pandemic recovery, the next phase of the EU Emissions Trading System and the global CORSIA scheme.
“We have a clear Road-Map for how to achieve net zero in aviation through SAF, new cleaner aircraft and modernisation of airspace. The right action from government now on SAF in particular will have a marked effect on our ability to set and achieve ambitious interim targets for decarbonisation.”
Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director of UK environmental group the Aviation Environment Federation, said: “The CCC’s advice is clear: the government needs to call time on airport expansion. Zero-carbon aviation is currently an aspiration, not a reality, and while it’s right to pursue new technologies for cutting emissions, we can’t rely on these coming through fast enough to decarbonise the sector without also reducing aviation demand.
“Our analysis shows that current and planned UK airport expansions could increase aviation CO2 emissions by nearly 9 Mt a year in 2050 compared to a situation with no expansion.
“The aviation sector has taken a huge hit from the Covid pandemic but jobs per passenger had already been falling for many years. The government now needs to sharpen its focus on how to build the zero-carbon industries – and jobs – of the future.”
New Zealand’s Christchurch Airport first to be certified at ACI’s higher transformation carbon accreditation level
Thu 3 Dec 2020 – Christchurch Airport in New Zealand has become the third airport in the world to reach the new higher level 4 certification of airport industry’s Airport Carbon Accreditation voluntary programme. Whereas Dallas Fort Worth and New Delhi Indira Gandhi airports have been recognised at Level 4+ Transition, Christchurch is the first airport to achieve Level 4 Transformation. The new levels have been brought in by airports body ACI to reflect airport carbon reduction targets that are aligned with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. To attain this accreditation, Christchurch has been required to address broader emissions in its carbon footprint that include all the significant operational sources on and off site, as well as demonstrate evidence of actively engaging and leading its stakeholders towards delivering emissions reductions.
“This achievement demonstrates the airport’s firm commitment to invest in a more sustainable future for aviation and for the region it serves,” said Stefano Baronci, Director General for ACI Asia-Pacific. “Without a doubt, it is a remarkable milestone at a time of unprecedented challenges for aviation. For airports, it is essential to recover from Covid-19 in a more agile and sustainable way, and Christchurch Airport is clearly leading the way in working towards decarbonisation. We hope other airports in the region will follow its leadership.”
To achieve Level 4 Transformation, an airport has to define a long-term carbon management strategy oriented towards absolute emissions reductions. Accreditation requires the airport to:
- Compile an extended carbon footprint (for Scope 1 and 3);
- Formulate a long-term, absolute emissions reduction target, aligned with the 1.5 or 2 degrees C pathway outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;
- Define the steps to achieve this target and the interim milestones to measure its progress; and
- Demonstrate evidence of actively driving third parties towards delivering emissions reductions.
Having already been accredited at Level 2 Reduction, Christchurch Airport’s General Manager Planning & Sustainability, Rhys Boswell, said its Level 4 Transformation submission took three months to complete.
“We were required to present a verified Carbon Footprint, a Carbon Management Plan in line with the UN Paris Agreement, and a Stakeholder Partnership Plan to influence Scope 3 emissions,” he confirmed. “All this went to an independently verified accreditor who scrutinises carbon accounting and airports. We provided independently verified proof of all our carbon reduction achievements.”
Boswell said the airport had reduced its Scope 1 emissions by 83% over the past year, from 1,186 tCO2e to 204 tCO2e, through installing ground source heating and cooling in the terminal building. Scope 2 emissions have reduced by 27% against a 2015 baseline year, through LED replacements and improved energy efficiencies.
“Plus, as part of our commitment to support the aviation industry transition to a low-carbon future, we have installed aircraft ground power,” he added. “When an aircraft is on the ground, it can use electricity rather than jet fuel and so saves approximately 730 tCO2e per plane per year.”
The airport’s carbon policy goals are to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 and absolute zero emissions by 2050.
“We have worked hard to demonstrate how emission reductions factor into our airport planning and decision-making, now and into a low-carbon future,” said Boswell. “Being recognised as the world’s first airport to demonstrate best practice in this area is a good feeling.”
Added Christchurch Airport CEO Malcolm Johns: “As a regional airport, we set a good example for our regional peers and for the airport industry as a whole. We show that small is big when you are bold enough to set the bar higher on climate actions and to deliver on ambitious environmental goals. We will continue to work diligently to build a more sustainable aviation in strong cooperation with our business partners.”
Commenting on Christchurch’s new accreditation, Air New Zealand’s Head of Sustainability, Lisa Daniell, said: “It’s great to see this kind of industry-wide commitment and collaboration happening to reduce carbon emissions. For Air New Zealand, having infrastructure at Christchurch Airport to plug aircraft into ground power on the tarmac, instead of running systems like air conditioning and cabin lights from the APU unit, which burns fuel, has helped us to reduce our own emissions.”
In October, Christchurch Airport saw the launch by start-up ElectricAir of New Zealand’s first electric plane, a two-seat Pipistrel Alpha Electro. The start-up has received support from the city council’s Innovation and Sustainability Fund and the Christchurch Agency for Energy Trust. The airport is also supporting the project as part of its electrification and decarbonisation programme, which will be the inaugural user of the airport’s newest charging infrastructure.
“We use electricity to power jet aircraft while they’re parked on the ground, we offer EV and e-Bike charging stations, so installing e-plane charging infrastructure was a natural next step,” said Boswell. “We are proud to be the launch pad for ElectricAir and to further power up to keep emissions down.”
The airport has also announced it is exploring the long-term potential of building what it describes as a “world-class sustainable airport” in Central Otago, on the lower South Island. It has purchased 750 hectares of land and the airport would start with a 2.2km, jet capable runway and a small terminal building. However, said Johns, the airport would be consulting with the local community before proceeding with the project.
EASA report on aviation’s non-CO2 climate impacts highlights need for policy decisions and more research
Thu 3 Dec 2020 – Tasked by the European Commission to conduct an update on the non-CO2 effects of aviation on climate change, Europe’s regulatory agency EASA has issued a report that highlights the latest understanding of the science and suggests technological, operational, policy and financial tools to address the issue. In addition to CO2, aircraft emit a wide variety of gases and aerosols at cruising altitude that influence climate directly and indirectly. The analysis confirms their significance is at least as important as those of CO2 alone, although the complexity of measuring non-CO2 climate impacts, together with the uncertainty regarding trade-offs between the various impacts, makes targeted policy development in this area challenging, say the authors. However, potential policies suggested include a levy on aircraft NOx emissions and/or the inclusion of such emissions under the EU ETS, and mandatory use of cleaner burning sustainable aviation fuels.
Steve Arrowsmith, Chief Expert for Environmental Protection at EASA, who led the project, told a webinar organised by NGOs Carbon Market Watch and Transport & Environment there had been past studies of the topic in 2006 and 2008 that primarily focused on NOx emissions but it was considered the scientific understanding was not sufficiently mature to propose policies to address non-CO2 impacts. He said the understanding had evolved considerably over the past decade, including on some new effects, although there remained significant uncertainties with regard to the magnitude of these impacts.
The report was compiled by renowned climate science, technology, ATM and policy experts from the EU, Norway and the UK. The non-CO2 climate impacts assessed arise from aircraft engine emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), soot particles, oxidised sulphur species and water vapour. The chemical and physical processes can lead to contrail and contrail cirrus impacts in particular local atmospheric conditions, and complex impacts arising from NOx and particulate matter (PM) emissions during cruise.
The net impact of aviation non-CO2 emissions is a positive radiative forcing (warming), although there are a number of individual positive and negative (cooling) forcings, for which large uncertainties remain. The largest aviation non-CO2 impacts that can be calculated with best estimates are those from net-NOx (NOx is not a climate warming agent per se but its emission results in changes in the chemical balance of the atmosphere to ozone and methane which have radiative impacts, quantified as a net-NOx effect) and contrail cirrus, both of which have significant uncertainties in their magnitude, particularly contrail cirrus. Contrails predominantly cool if the sun is close to the horizon and warm if the sun is high in the sky. However, they exclusively warm at night, thereby resulting in a net positive (warming) radiative forcing.
The scientific community has adopted Effective Radiative Forcing (ERF) as a better metric of an absolute impact when compared to Radiative Forcing (RF) as it shows better proportionality to changes in global mean surface temperature response, particularly for short-lived climate forcing agents such as clouds and aerosols. The usage of ERF rather than RF is potentially significant for aviation NOx and contrail cirrus impacts. Aviation ERFs are less well quantified than RFs for net-NOx impacts but better quantified for contrail cirrus forcing effects.
Research shows the ERF from the sum of non-CO2 impacts yields a net positive (warming) that accounts for more than half (66%) of the aviation net forcing in 2018. However, in the same year, the uncertainty distributions showed that non-CO2 forcing terms contributed about eight times more than CO2 to the overall uncertainty in aviation net forcing.
While the confidence level on the magnitude of the impact of NOx remains low, the current understanding is that NOx still has a net positive climate forcing effect. However, say the scientists, if surface emissions of tropospheric ozone precursors (NOx, CO, methane and non-methane hydrocarbons) decrease significantly in future and aviation emissions increase, it is possible that the net aviation NOx ERF will decrease, or even become negative (i.e. cooling), even with increasing total emissions of NOx.
“This highlights one of the problems of formulating NOx mitigation policy based on current emissions/conditions,” says the report.
A major scientific and policy challenge also remains comparing long-lived aviation CO2 emissions with short-lived non-CO2 emissions and their impacts on a common scale. CO2 has multiple lifetimes in the atmosphere because of different timescales but a significant fraction – around 20% – accumulates and remains in the atmosphere for millennia.
The CO2 equivalent emissions metric (CO2-e) that is currently widely used, including within the EU ETS for stationary installations, is the Global Warming Potential for a time-horizon of 100 years (GWP100). This metric estimates an overall CO2 multiplier of 1.7 to account for future impacts of aviation non-CO2 emissions. To address the challenge, the scientific community has proposed a number of alternatives to the GWP100, including the Global Temperature change Potential (GTP) metric, which estimates a 1.1 multiplier.
The report points out that there is no exclusively correct choice of an equivalent emissions metric as the choice depends on the policy (for example whether it is a temperature target or an emissions reduction target) and the subjective choice of the time horizon of interest.
The simple approach of applying a multiplier to account for the climate effects of non-CO2 emissions – for example a net GWP100-based multiplier – averaged across the aircraft fleet and all atmospheric conditions may not be appropriate, say the experts. Also, they argue, the use of the multiplier does not incentivise reductions of non-CO2 emissions independently of CO2 emissions, neither at the global/regional fleet level nor on an individual flight-by-flight basis.
Another option would be to calculate the total climate impact of individual flights and then determine the CO2 equivalent emissions on a flight-by-flight basis. Such equivalents could be used as the basis for a policy instrument but, says the report, once again the magnitude of the equivalency depends on the choice of metric and time horizon.
The report states that a relatively new application of the GWP, referred to as GWP*, produces a better temperature-based equivalence of short-lived non-CO2 climate forcers by equating an increase in the emission rate of a short-lived climate forcer (SLCF) with a one-off ‘pulse’ emission of CO2. The GWP* is an example of a flow-based method that represents both short-lived and long-lived climate forcers explicitly as ‘warming-equivalent’ emissions that have approximately the same impact on the global average surface temperature over multi-decade to century timescales. Based on this method, the indication is that aviation emissions are currently warming the climate at around three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone.
“It could be argued that temperature-based metrics, and the GWP*, are potentially more useful for temperature-based policy objectives, such as the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement. They also provide a more physical basis of actual impacts than GWPs for SLCFs,” says the report.
However, it adds: “This report does not recommend one specific metric or choice of time horizon. These choices partly depend on the suitability of the metric to a particular mitigation strategy and partly upon the user’s choices, which may be influenced by socio-economic factors, such as equity valuation.”
Technological or operational measures to mitigate aviation’s non-CO2 impacts that involve a reduction of a SLCF, such as NOx or contrail cirrus, are covered by the report. Because they can result in increased CO2 emissions, however, measures need to be considered carefully to ensure the net impact is beneficial, it cautions. “The ratio between benefits and disbenefits will change with the time horizon being considered but a reduction in SLCFs might make it easier to achieve climate change targets in the next decades and up to a century.”
Avoiding contrail cirrus-forming in ice-supersaturated regions of the atmosphere is an example of an operational measure to reduce the climate impact of aviation. There is some evidence, say the experts, that most of the total forcing comes from a few events where formation is large and long-lasting – sometimes referred to as ‘big hits’. Flights impacting these events should be targeted for avoidance, rather than all flights, and research into reliably forecasting ‘big hits’ should be undertaken. Avoidance of ice-supersaturation regions requires accurate prediction at least 24 hours in advance and meteorological forecast modelling needs to be improved as the capability to forecast persistent contrails is limited, says the report. The potential impacts of trade-offs from increased CO2 emissions as result of flight re-routings also need to be more thoroughly understood to ensure ‘no regret’ policies, it adds.
Reducing contrail cirrus impact, as well as improving air quality, could also be met without modification of flight trajectories or incurring an additional fuel consumption/CO2 penalty by reducing soot particle emissions. This could be achieved by using low-carbon sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The reduction in the use of aromatics in fuel is seen as an important mitigation measure to reduce non-CO2 aviation emissions. SAF has shown a reduction in non-volatile particulate matter (nvPM) emissions in landing and take-off (LTO) operations and cruise due to their lower aromatic and sulphur content.
The report says there is scope for improving emission characteristics through the hydrotreatment of conventional fossil fuels to reduce aromatics and sulphur although the extra costs and energy requirements would need to be examined in order to balance the differential environmental benefits.
The global aircraft fleet NOx performance, in terms of certified data, is likely to improve as older high-NOx engine designs are replaced with new engine combustion technologies, with NOx emissions on a per passenger kilometre basis expected to show a reduction over time, although significant reductions may be limited. Levels of nvPM emissions are likely to improve as engines with technology designed for NOx control enter the fleet, although technologies to mitigate nvPM are less well understood than NOx. Beyond 2040-2050, hybrid-electric aircraft and revised configurations could offer significant reductions in NOx emissions.
Non-CO2 emissions charging
In the meantime, potential policy options to reduce non-CO2 climate impacts could include a NOx charge or the inclusion of aircraft NOx emissions in the EU ETS.
A charge on NOx would cover total NOx emissions over an entire flight and calculated using certified LTO NOx emissions data, the distance flown and a factor accounting for the relation between LTO and cruise emissions. The report cites a 2009 legal analysis that suggested neither ICAO’s Chicago Convention nor its recommended policies on taxes and charges prevented the implementation of such a measure. The charge would incentivise engine manufacturers to reduce LTO NOx emissions during their design process and airlines to minimise NOx emissions in operation, while taking into account associated trade-offs. Further research and monitoring is still needed on the climate impact of aviation NOx, caution the experts, but if there is the political will to take the option forward then they suggest the measure could potentially be implemented in five to eight years.
Incorporating aviation NOx emissions into the EU ETS would also take five to eight years and the same caveats over research and the uncertainty about the issue would apply, says the report, along with the incentive by manufacturers and airlines to reduce NOx. As existing EU ETS legislation uses the GWP100 metric to convert other greenhouse gases to CO2 equivalents for stationary installations, so it is assumed this would be the metric applied to the aviation sector. The measure could be implemented by adjusting the existing legislation and building on existing administrative processes and precedents, for example baseline, cap, auctioned allowances and MRV and accreditation. The same EU ETS geographical scope for aviation could be applied to NOx as that for CO2 emissions.
However, Arrowsmith told the webinar: “There is clearly uncertainty with regard to the climate impact and that was identified [by the experts] as a political risk in terms of the integrity of the EU ETS, recognising that as the science evolves, the intended effect of something that is put in place may change.”
Other policy measures could entail reducing the maximum volume concentration of aromatics within fuel uplifted at European airports and an EU blending mandate to boost the use of sustainable aviation fuels. If the political will was there to take these options forward, the aromatics measure could potentially be implemented in the five-to-eight-year period or perhaps longer, while a SAF blending mandate, already under consideration by the European Commission, could be achieved in a shorter timeframe, advises the report.
Another option, although more complicated and taking longer to implement, would be to levy a charge on the full climate impact of each individual flight, so having the broadest coverage of all the policy measures. The introduction of such a charge requires a good estimate of the climate costs at a flight level and, says the report, there is no scientific consensus on the methodology to calculate these costs.
“It could be argued that a levy that aims to internalise the external costs would be considered a charge and not a tax,” it says. “In this case, the charge would be related to recover the external costs of the climate impact of aviation.” Significant research is needed to develop and define this measure, it adds.
Arrowsmith said key messages to be taken from the report included a need to continuously review the latest scientific understanding on non-CO2 impacts and conduct further research, potentially through the EU’s planned Horizon Europe scientific research initiative, to increase certainty, consider different metrics and time horizons, enhance existing analytical methods to estimate aircraft non-CO2 emissions, and enhance capability to accurately predict the formation of persistent contrails. In addition, he said, there was a need to maintain and regularly review existing ICAO environmental certification standards on CO2, NOx and nvPM, and to incentivise the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels.
Responding to the report, Transport & Environment said the EU could not afford to wait the five to eight years proposed to implement aviation non-CO2 mitigation policies. It said the measures should be included in the Commission’s upcoming Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy that is due out shortly. Contrail avoidance should also be prioritised in the revision of the Single European Sky, it recommends, and pricing for non-CO2 emissions used to incentivise airlines to use eco-friendly flight paths.
“The European Commission was first tasked with addressing the non-CO2 emissions of flying in 2008. It shouldn’t waste any more time in implementing the solutions that are available today,” said Jo Dardenne, T&E’s Aviation Manager. “Contrails and other non-CO2 effects need to be urgently tackled to avert climate crisis.”
IATA launches carbon exchange for airlines to access and trade offsets for CORSIA and voluntary requirements
Fri 27 Nov 2020 – IATA has formally launched the Aviation Carbon Exchange (ACE), a platform for airlines and other aviation stakeholders to offset their carbon footprint by purchasing credits in certified projects. Carbon reduction programmes on ACE include forestry projects, clean wind energy operations, protection of eco-systems and remote community-based projects to cut emissions. The platform has been under development since the beginning of the year and is aimed at providing a tool for airlines in fulfilling their offsetting obligations starting in 2021 under the ICAO CORSIA scheme. The impact of Covid-19 on the airline industry and a change to the CORSIA baseline means offsetting under the scheme is now unlikely to be required for at least several years but ACE will still be open to airlines wanting to invest in voluntary offsets. ACE was developed in conjunction with commodities trader Xpansiv CBL Holding Group and US carrier JetBlue has completed the first trade.
The Aviation Carbon Exchange becomes the first centralised, real-time marketplace to be integrated with the IATA Clearing House (ICH) for the settlement of funds on trades in carbon offsets. With an annual turnover of around $56 billion, IATA says the ICH provides a fast and secure billing and settlement services for the air transport industry and will ensure that ACE can guarantee payment and delivery of carbon credits.
Although ACE was conceived as a CORSIA tool, IATA still foresees a demand from airlines that have set net-zero emissions targets and those wishing to offset domestic operations, which are outside the scope of CORSIA.
“Airlines are serious in their commitment to reduce emissions. And they need a reliable tool to access quality carbon credits in real time,” said Director General Alexandre de Juniac at the IATA Annual General Meeting held virtually this week. “ACE will be a key tool helping airlines efficiently manage these important transactions.”
Added Sebastian Mikosz, IATA’s SVP for Member and External Relations: “ACE gives airlines access to top quality carbon offsetting schemes in real-time with full transparency. CORSIA is a key enabler of our long-term strategy to reduce emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050, and this new platform will be of enormous benefit to our members and other industry stakeholders.”
In the first trade on the exchange, JetBlue purchased an undisclosed number of credits in the first phase of the Larimar wind farm project in the Dominican Republic, which began development in 2015 and when completed is expected to reduce average emissions by more than 200,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
“Our planet is physically changing, as are the expectations of our customers, crew members and investors,” said Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue. “While our industry’s short-term priorities are focused on Covid-19 recovery, now is the time to rebuild operations in more sustainable ways such as adopting sustainable aviation fuels and setting clear strategies to reduce net aviation CO2 emissions. The Aviation Carbon Exchange will help us continue to meet our climate commitments by providing simplified and transparent access to legitimate, third-party certified carbon offsets.”
During the AGM, Hayes was appointed Chair of the IATA Board of Governors and his airline will host next year’s AGM in Boston. Also announced was the stepping down of Alexandre de Juniac as Director General and he will be replaced in April 2021 by the former CEO of International Airlines Group, Willie Walsh.
In a revised outlook for airline industry performance in 2020 and 2021, IATA expects the sector to experience a net loss of $118.5 billion in 2020, deeper than forecast in June, to be followed by a net loss of $38.7 billion next year. Passenger numbers are expected to plummet to 1.8 billion, 60.5% down on the 4.5 billion passengers in 2019. This, it says, is about the same number as carried in 2003. International markets have been hit disproportionately harder than domestic markets, which have been propelled by a recovery in Russia and China.
IATA’s Director of Environment, Michael Gill, told this week’s ICAO Green Recovery virtual seminar that the sector’s global CO2 emissions in 2020 would be around 330 million tonnes, a level last seen in 1977.
Meanwhile, Aviation Carbon Exchange’s partner CBL announced record volumes this week, having traded 25.2 million voluntary carbon offsets in the year-to-date, an increase of 235% over the same period in 2019.