Monday, October 22, 2007

Aviation and climate change

Most of us know that flying's bad for climate change, and that we should really holiday closer to home, take the train and videoconference.

Aviation has by far the greatest climate impact of any transport mode, whether measured per passenger kilometre, per tonne kilometre, per € spent, or per hour spent. See the Transport and Environment report, 'Clearing the Air: the myth and reality of aviation and climate change'.

The opening of the St Pancras rail link to the continent on November 14 will allow you to travel in style from the centre of one city to the centre of another faster than ever, for a comparable price to flying in many cases (eg London to Berlin is more or less the same price on BA/tube/rail to/from airport). So what if it takes longer? It's sure going to be less hassle and you can take the sleeper.

But people will still fly - so should aviation be included in the EU emissions trading system (ETS)?


The EU thinks so, and so does the British government. The EU is pressing ahead despite a major rift within the UN body responsible for the sector.

The airlines don't like it. They are kicking and screaming.

The 2007 Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - a body representing the airlines but also responsible, under the Kyoto Protocol, for reducing emissions from international aviation - passed a resolution earlier this month saying countries should sign separate agreements with all other countries operating in its airspace before applying emissions trading to their carrier airlines.

This was strongly backed by the United States.

To enter into separate agreements would be technically illegal under the Kyoto treaty and disables the whole point of the ETS.

Since 1997 the ICAO has failed to endorse, or issued negative statements on, every serious policy option for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.

In retaliation EU member states, and member countries of the wider European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) which includes Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, made a 'reservation' against the resolution.

Though ICAO guidance is not legally-binding, the EU has until now acted within its framework. This 'reservation' signals the end of that commitment.

João Vieira, of the Brussels-based group Transport and Environment, called for this body to be disbanded. "After a shameful decade of obstruction and inaction, ICAO must now be stripped of its environmental responsibilities."

But will it make any difference?

But will bringing aviation into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in line with current proposals have any effect on burgeoning air travel?

Not according to a report by the University of Manchester's Tyndall Centre. Its research found that even if carbon dioxide permit prices rose up to €50 per tonne it will have little impact on the price of and demand for flights - and hence will barely dent the rise in emissions.

Current predictions of the carbon credit price are in the range of €15-35. For example consultancies Ideacarbon and Econ said in September that the price for the next five years could be around €15 because of imports of credits from developing countries.

At this price the ETS isn't going to make much difference to anything, let alone airline emissions.

The Low Carbon Kid says pressure must be kept up on governments to curtail flights - and make flying as unfashionable as owning a slave.

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