The EU ETS must be strengthened or its impact on aviation emissions will be minimal, says Tyndall study
Fri 21 Nov 2008 – The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the UK’s Manchester University has just published a working paper that assesses the implications on climate targets of including aviation within the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. It concludes that unless the scheme adopts both an early baseline year and an overall cap in keeping with a 450ppmv CO2 equivalent cumulative emission pathway, its impact on aviation emissions will be minimal. The authors say carbon prices will need to be much higher or other stringent constraints will be required to restrict the rapid growth in aviation emissions.
The study, ‘A bottom-up analysis of including aviation within the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme’, bases its analysis on the European Commission premise that in order to ensure global mean surface temperatures do not exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels, long term greenhouse gas concentrations must be stabilized at 450ppmv CO2eq. In response, it has so far set aspirational targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60-80% by 2050 from 1990 levels.
Combining domestic and international aviation of the EU25 nations, the study estimates a CO2 emission growth rate for the EU’s aviation industry of 7% between 2003 and 2004 and 6% between 2004 and 2005, a similar rate of growth experienced since 1993, with the exception of the period affected by 9/11.
“This rapid growth in emissions, coupled with limited opportunities for other than incremental improvements in fuel efficiency, at least in the short to medium term, gives rise to the concern that as EU nations strive to reduce CO2 emissions, aviation will be responsible for an increasing share of the EU’s total,” say the paper’s two authors, Dr Alice Bows and Professor Kevin Anderson.
In 2005, the study says EU aviation emissions amounted to 150MtCO2, representing 4% of total EU emissions. The authors say that such a percentage “gives rise to the repeated and dangerously misleading claim that ‘aviation is not a major greenhouse gas polluter’. Making simplistic comparisons with other emissions sources conveniently chosen to underplay aviation’s contribution to total emissions only serves to confuse an already confusing issue. All emissions are inevitably the aggregate of smaller percentages; using this as an excuse for relative inaction will collectively lead to individual, sectoral, national and, ultimately, global apathy.”
Under the present aviation ETS scenario, the emissions baseline above which airlines operating in Europe must buy emission allowances is set at the 2004-2006 level. The Tyndall study explores three different baselines – 1990, 2000 and 2005 – to gauge their potential impact and applies a suite of aviation scenarios from 2013 to 2050 commensurate with a world striving to live within the 450ppmv carbon budget that has been developed. These scenarios incorporate a range of passenger growth rates and assumptions related to fuel efficiency gains through technology improvements and, in the longer term, the inclusion of alternative low-carbon fuels. The cost implications of these scenarios under a range of carbon allowance prices are considered and, finally, the aviation scenarios are compared with the overall 450ppmv carbon budget for the EU25.
The study examines a range of future carbon permit prices and assumes all costs will be passed on to the passenger. “Although carbon prices above €50 have yet to materialize, the premise of this report is that the EU is genuinely committed to 450ppmv. With this in mind, it is assumed that between 2012 and2017 carbon prices are €50-€100, increasing in the longer term to between €100 and €300,” say the authors.
They estimate that a price of €50 to €100 per tonne equates to a short-haul flight fare increase of €2-€15 per passenger, medium-haul €10-€60 and long-haul flights from say the UK to Australia €40-€120. “It is difficult to envisage such small price signals having other than marginal impacts on the rate of growth of aviation emissions,” they believe.
“Only with carbon prices higher than those currently being considered by the industry, say €100 to €300 per tonne, can the ETS have sufficient impact.”
Should a realistically high carbon price be considered unachievable, they propose alternative pricing mechanisms such as a fuel tax, air passenger duty or some other “innovative charging instrument”. Another mechanism they suggest is for a tough carbon rationing regime to be introduced, such as personal carbon allowances. If such stringent measures are not chosen, they say, the EU must prepare to adapt to climate change impacts in excess of a +2°C future.
“The transition from the EU’s rhetoric on climate change to a scientifically-literate policy agenda demands a reframing of the debate in terms of cumulative carbon budgets and accompanying carbon-reduction pathways. Within such a framing, addressing urgently aviation’s rapidly escalating emissions becomes a prerequisite of any meaningful carbon-reduction strategy,” concludes the paper.