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What aviation means for the fifth carbon budget

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the official body advising the Government on climate change policy, has today published its advice on the fifth carbon budget, including a restatement of its recommendation that aviation emissions should be no higher in 2050 than in 2005 (37.5 Mt). CO2 from the sector is currently set to overshoot this level even without any new runways and to be higher still if expansion takes place at either Heathrow or Gatwick. New CCC analysis published today indicates that in a scenario where emissions are not capped and only low ‘carbon abatement’ options (such as technology improvements) are available, aviation emissions could be as high as 51.9 Mt by 2050, underlining the need for policy action to address the gap.

Carbon budgets ensure that the UK is on the right path to deliver the economy-wide 80% emissions reduction required under the Climate Change Act. So far, the Government has consistently adopted and legislated CCC’s advice on the appropriate level of ambition for carbon budgets. The fifth budget will cover emissions from 2028-2032.

Image credit: Committee on Climate Change
Image credit: Committee on Climate Change

Where does aviation fit in the UK climate change plan?

The CCC’s recommendation that carbon budgets must account for emissions from international aviation and shipping is longstanding. To date these emissions have not been formally included in carbon budgets given concerns about the appropriate approach to accounting for emissions from international travel.

The advice published today calls on Government to begin including shipping emissions in carbon budgets, but that “continuing uncertainties in aviation’s accounting within the EU ETS mean inclusion would be impractical at this time”. In the interim, CCC maintains that carbon budgets should continue to allow headroom for the future inclusion of aviation.

AEF supports inclusion of aviation emissions in carbon budgets and we set out some possible approaches for doing so in our response to the CCC’s consultation on its fifth carbon budget. But a continuation by Governbment of the current approach of ensuring that the UK is on course to deliver the long-term emissions target of 80% in a way that includes all sectors, and makes allowance for the future inclusion of aviation, is more important than formal inclusion of aviation emissions in carbon budgets in our view.

CCC recommends that aviation emissions should be no higher than 37.5 Mt in 2050 – the level in 2005 – and that the level of emissions reduction this assumes from other sectors in order to achieve the economy-wide target of an 80% cut is at the limit of what is feasible. In June this year, the CCC advised the Government to draw up a policy plan for closing the gap between currently forecast aviation emissions and the 37.5 Mt target.

What does this mean for the runway debate?

The Airports Commission, in making its recommendations for a new runway at Heathrow, produced two sets of forecasts. One, the ‘carbon capped’ forecast, assumed that Government continues to act on the CCC’s advice in limiting aviation emissions to 37.5 Mt. The other, the ‘carbon traded’ forecast, ignored any constraint on emissions under the Climate Change Act and assumed that the only action to control UK aviation emissions would be inclusion in an international carbon trading scheme.

Today’s advice from the CCC implies that Government must work on the basis of a ‘carbon capped’ scenario, and that the advice of the Airports Commission to build a new South East runway should be considered in this context.

What do we want Government to do?

The Government will propose draft legislation in response to the CCC’s advice on the Fifth Carbon Budget in 2016. AEF will be asking for Government to implement the CCC’s recommendation to allow headroom for aviation emissions, and to reconsider whether in fact sufficient information either is or will be available to formally include aviation as well as shipping emissions in carbon budgets from 2028.

To demonstrate its commitment to keeping aviation emissions at a level compatible with the Climate Change Act, Government should also set out a detailed policy plan for limiting aviation demand growth to no more than 60% above its level in 2005, in line with CCC’s recommendation of June 2015, and no decisions should be taken to increase South East airport capacity unless it can be shown to be compatible with such a plan.

We’re hoping that the international climate change conference in Paris this December will produce some ambitious long-term commitments. We’re also hoping to see some evidence following the conference that the UK is willing to honour its domestic climate commitments now they are starting to bite. And getting aviation policy right is an important part of this picture.


Image credit: Ma.Sum via Flickr

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