By Christina Kamp
The climate summit in December in Copenhagen is meant to come to a new agreement to set the course for equitable, climate-friendly development. However, while big and bold steps are required, the cumbersome preparation process rather points towards a tug-of-war over minor concessions. Structures such as the emission trading system are to support a "business as usual" approach - for those who can afford it. To find out more about the prospects for the aviation sector, we interviewed Dudley Curtis, European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), an environmental organisation in Brussels campaigning on sustainable transport.
TW: Has tourism, and particularly aviation, played a role in the climate negotiations to date and what can we expect from Copenhagen?
Dudley Curtis: International aviation emissions, like those from international shipping, were excluded from the Kyoto climate agreements of 1997. Responsibility for cutting aviation emissions was given to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), who failed to act, and actually blocked progress for over a decade. CO2 emissions from aviation exceed 730 million tonnes annually - up well over 45 percent since 1990. Additional climate impacts from other exhaust gases and cloud effects are around double those of CO2. Overall, aviation is responsible for 4.9 percent of global warming today. International aviation emits more CO2 than France or Australia. ICAO is unlikely to bring anything to the Copenhagen talks beyond promises and proposals for modest efficiency and operational measures - mostly voluntary or partial in scope. But left unchecked, emissions from aviation and shipping will double or triple by 2050, forming by then a very significant proportion of a global carbon 'budget' consistent with keeping warming below 2° C. The climate deal to be agreed in Copenhagen must control emissions from all sources if it is to protect the climate. That means including international transport within the overall carbon budget.
TW: The European Union is planning to include aviation in the European Emission Trading System from 2012. What does that mean, and is it a good solution?
Dudley Curtis: The EU's decision to include aviation in its emission trading scheme was an important first step, after decades of inaction on the environmental impacts from the sector. However this development must be seen in context. Sadly, the terms on which aviation has entered the ETS will mean very limited reductions in emissions from aircraft - this might create the illusion that other measures that would do much more to reduce emissions (emission standards, kerosene taxes, etc) are no longer needed.
Aviation's entry into the ETS was never going to make a massive difference to emissions from air travel, but the deal we have means any reduction will amount to no more than a year's growth. Airlines will be allowed to buy permits from other sectors without restrictions, so their emissions will continue to grow. Instead of changing to greener technologies and operations, the aviation sector is likely to limit its climate efforts to buying permits in the carbon market. In addition, this directive only addresses CO2 emissions, ignoring the fact that NOx emissions from aircraft at altitude and aviation-induced clouds also have climatic impacts. It will mean aviation remains the least efficient and most climate-intensive mode of transportation.
TW: The "Aviation Global Deal Group" (AGD Group) has made a proposal on how to tackle aviation emissions in a post-Kyoto agreement. Is this a proposal in the right direction?
Dudley Curtis: In contrast to most of the aviation sector, the AGD group's members have recognised that environmental issues are not going to go away, and have said that aviation should be included in a post-Kyoto deal. However they believe aviation should be allowed to continue polluting roughly at 2005 levels, while other sectors have had to reduce based on their 1990 levels. A number of members of the group have also been critical of the EU-ETS. So it remains to be seen whether they are serious about aviation making a genuine contribution to carbon reductions.
(675 words, 57 lines, September 2009)