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Aviation should be included in the the UK’s carbon budgets, Government advisers recommend

5th April, 2012

See also this press statement.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has today recommended that emissions from international aviation be formally included in the UK’s carbon budgets. The Climate Act 2008 commits the UK to cutting emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, with a system of annual carbon budgets ensuring that the target is delivered. The Act currently omits emissions from international aviation and shipping but requires the Government to reconsider whether they should be included in 2012, with advice from the Committee on Climate Change. Already the Committee is required under the Act to ‘take account of’ these emissions when setting the carbon budgets for other sectors, so formal inclusion of aviation and shipping should not in fact have any impact on the carbon budgets that have already been set for other sectors.

2009 report: some aviation growth compatible with emissions stabilisation

In 2009 the Labour Government asked the CCC to advise on how aviation emissions could be returned to 2005 levels by 2050. The Committee concluded that after taking account of likely improvements in aircraft technology and air traffic management, and allowing for the possibility of 10% of aircraft fuel by 2050 being from sustainable sources, the ‘stabilisation’ target could allow for a 60% growth in passengers.  Even allowing for the introduction of carbon prices through the EU Emissions Trading System, however, the CCC predicted a growth in aviation demand of 115%, or 105% if no new runways were built anywhere in the UK before 2050. In other words, demand would need to be restrained if it was to keep to the 60% growth increase that would be compatible with the target.

Today, for the first time, the CCC formally recommended that the Government assume a long term scenario for aviation based on aviation emissions getting back to around 2005 levels in 2050 – the default level assumed by the Committee in its emissions modelling up till now, and the basis for their 2009 report.

The Committee has not analysed the CO2 impacts of any particular airport proposals and makes no specific recommendations in relation to airport expansion. Nevertheless, its recommendations underline the importance of ensuring that realistic climate change considerations are among the framing conditions for the new airports policy, the draft of which will be published this summer.

A good deal for airlines

If adopted by Government, this emissions ‘scenario’ would give aviation very significant advantages over other sectors in terms of emissions abatement.

Firstly, UK aviation emissions grew around 120% between 1990 and 2005, so constraining 2050 emissions to 2005 levels means that aviation would be allowed to grow 120% over 1990 levels by 2050. Meanwhile, other  sectors are expected to cut their emissions by more than 80% over the same period.

And secondly, the Climate Act takes account of the impact on global warming of emissions other than carbon dioxide (CO2), which are significant for some sectors. But the act omits the very important impacts of NOx and water vapour emitted by aircraft in the upper atmosphere.

AEF’s view

AEF strongly supports the inclusion of aviation emissions in the UK’s carbon targets and budgets, to support action which we are actively engaged in progressing at European and international levels. The sector’s emissions have historically grown rapidly, and the only reason for their being omitted when the Climate Act was agreed in 2008 was a technicality about how to account for them – an issue that can now be easily addressed using data collected through the EU Emissions Trading System. People in the UK fly more than anyone else in the world, so it is right that the UK takes a leading role in tackling aviation emissions growth. The Committee’s recommendations would give aviation considerable leeway compared with other sectors but would ensure that aviation in future participates transparently in the UK’s efforts to bring our economy within sustainable limits.

For the CCC’s report, released today, see the CCC website