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Developed countries will need to make ‘deep cuts’ in aviation emissions, says Climate Committee

9th September, 2009

Aviation emissions from developed countries should be capped at 2005 levels, the government’s climate advisors said today. And while “Emissions trading and offsetting offer useful short to medium term flexibility for meeting aviation targets”, in the long run the industry will need to make deep cuts in its own emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

In December last year the Committee reported that to achieve an overall cut in UK emissions of 80% while allowing aviation emissions to grow in the short term, other sectors would need to make even greater reductions (see Aviation emissions should be allowed to grow while other sectors take the strain, Government advisors recommend).

Then in January the government announced a special target for aviation – that by 2050 emissions should be brought down to 2005 levels (note 1). This in fact allows aviation emissions to increase by 120% percent compared with 1990 levels, while other sectors are required to make 90% reductions.

Despite the rise of low cost carriers, it is those on higher incomes who fly the most, while 50% of the population don’t fly at all in any given year. With sectors such as electricity, which everyone in the UK relies on, likely to put up their prices to help cover green investment, people could find themselves picking up the tab for aviation without ever setting foot on a plane.

But even the more generous target set for aviation will be challenging, as there are currently no technologies offering radical cuts in aircraft emissions: planes are set to remain dependent on oil. While improvements in aircraft and engine technology have made planes more efficient, these incremental reductions have been swamped by the growth in flights.

AEF welcomes the CCC’s call for a global agreement on tackling aviation emissions and we urge ministers to make sure this issue is addressed at the Copenhagen talks in December. But to persuade developing countries to sign up to climate targets countries like the UK, where people fly more than anywhere else in the world, will need to take the lead.

To have a chance of bringing the UK’s aviation emissions back down to 2005 levels by 2050 the government will need to look again at the expansion plans they set out for UK airports in 2003. Aviation emissions have more than doubled since 1990 and are set to carry on rising under government growth projections.

Note 1. The Department for Transport’s UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts, published in January 2009 gave aviation emissions figures of 16.9 MtCO2 in 1990, and 37.5 MtCO2 in 2005.