GIACC gathers for final meeting to agree on an action plan to address aviation's growing carbon emissions
Fri 22 May 2009 – The fourth and final meeting of ICAO’s 15-member Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) starts in Montreal on Monday (May 25) with expectations for a unanimous agreement on a global action plan to curb international aviation emissions looking increasingly uncertain. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is to deliver a paper to the group which outlines how a global sectoral approach on economic measures to address aviation CO2 emissions could be developed and sets out fuel efficiency goals up to 2020 and net CO2 reduction targets by 2050. In a paper prepared for GIACC by the ICAO Secretariat, however, aviation CO2 emissions could grow from 632 Mt CO2 in 2006 to between 890 and 2,500 Mt CO2 by 2050, excluding a contribution from alternative fuels.
The ICAO paper says that although there are significant uncertainties given the time horizon, the lower bound (890 Mt CO2) “is not considered plausible given the strong assumptions regarding behavioural change”. It says on a per-flight basis, efficiency is expected to continue to improve through 2050. “However, even under the most aggressive technology forecast scenarios, this anticipated gain in efficiency from technological and operational measures does not offset the expected growth in demand driven emissions.
“Therefore, an emissions ‘gap’ relative to the 2006 (or earlier) levels will exist in the future that will require some form of intervention in order to achieve sustainability. A multi-faceted approach toward this objective may be possible from a combination of alternative fuels, unforeseen technological advances, operational measures and market-based measures,” concludes the paper prepared by two ICAO task forces.
The IATA paper sets out recommended sectoral reduction goals. In both the short term (to 2012) and medium term (2013-2020), IATA says the aviation sector can “strive to collectively achieve” improvements in fuel efficiency (litres/RTK or usg/RTM) of 1.5% on average per year. In the 2020 to 2025 timeframe, the sector will “strive to collectively achieve” carbon neutral growth “using additional measures as appropriate, including the use of low carbon sustainable alternative jet fuels”.
In the long term (to 2050), IATA says the aviation sector will collectively reduce its net CO2 emissions in 2050 by 50% compared to 2005 levels.
The airline association describes these goals as ambitious but they will likely fall short of expectations elsewhere. Commenting on the IATA paper, a representative from a leading environmental organization told GreenAir Online: “I think it’s a useful contribution, but doesn’t go far enough from an environmental perspective. For example, the targets mentioned are relative (i.e. fuel efficiency improvements) and not absolute, so total emissions will continue to rise. This contrasts with what the world is supposed to deliver in Copenhagen, which are absolute emission reductions for developed countries and a 'deviation from baseline' for developing ones.
“Moreover, the targets suggested don’t appear much better than projected ‘business as usual’ improvements. Arguments about the lack of easy technological fixes are generally valid, but this ignores the opportunities for low-cost abatement provided through carbon markets.
“However, I think it’s fair to say that there’s growing consensus about the general direction of where the industry needs to be heading. The devil, as always, is in the detail and there’s probably still some way to go before reaching agreement on the exact mechanisms for achieving emission reductions.
“US airlines, for example, remain to be convinced about emissions trading. I think as the wider negotiations gain momentum and as domestic – particularly US – and international politics become clearer, then you’ll see IATA come forward with more details and more focus.”
The IATA paper carefully avoids supporting or opposing emissions trading but sets out principles of a global approach to address aviation’s CO2 emissions and believes that international aviation should be included in a post-Kyoto framework under ICAO leadership.
The paper says the framework must reconcile the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) with the ICAO requirement for non-discrimination under the Chicago Convention. “The industry believes that, with some political leadership and innovative solutions, these two principles are completely consistent in the context of international aviation,” says the document.
On economic measures, it says: “The airline industry can only support economic measures which are cost-effective and non-discriminatory. These measures could include emissions trading, carbon funds, offsets or other similar mechanisms as long as they are implemented globally, on the basis of consensus, provide full and open access to the global carbon market and under the auspices of ICAO.
“Any revenues from a global scheme to address aviation emissions should be clearly earmarked for environmental purposes.”
Also presenting a paper at GIACC/4 is the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), a grouping of environmental NGOs working on global aviation environmental issues. ICSA’s paper presents new figures showing that global emissions of CO2 from air transport grew over 45% between 1992 and 2005 and annual average passenger traffic growth of 5.3% between 2000 and 2007.
It says the earth’s capacity to absorb anthropogenic CO2, and therefore the level to which emissions will have to be reduced in the long-term, is around 5,000 million tonnes annually (according to the Stern Report) – around twice the estimated level for 2050 aviation emissions if left unmitigated.
“Aviation’s contribution is not limited to the 2 to 3 percent of carbon emissions that is so often repeated,” says ICSA, referring to aviation’s non-CO2 contribution to radiative forcing. “GIACC, ICAO and the industry itself must respond now to avoid having to make even more significant cuts at a later date, with likely far reaching economic consequences for airlines. With aviation traffic having grown at over 5% a year during the last decade, and with similar trends forecast in the future, controlling and mitigating GHG emissions from aviation is an enormous challenge. ICSA reiterates the need for urgent action on both aircraft CO2 and non-CO2 impacts.
“The international community is expecting it [ICAO] to act now and to act in a manner consistent with the scale of the climate change threat and mitigation needs. Failure to do so will result in serious and permanent damage to the organization’s credibility and standing as well as to aviation’s already tarnished image.”
ICSA maintains that to be consistent with estimates of reductions required to limit global warming to below 2⁰C, international aviation GHG emissions must be at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
“The target for 2020 is attainable only with access to CDM credits and emissions trading, although these should only be accessible once GIACC’s proposed efficiency goals in any given year have been met,” it says. “This would spur innovation and ensure emissions reductions within the sector. In the longer term, the declining global carbon budget will mean that airlines can rely less and less on imported credits, and the 2050 target will require radical technological developments.”