Air and Marine
Airlines are unlikely to meet even their own delayed targets for reducing the sector’s carbon emissions, even though science can deliver a perfectly good jet fuel from algae and a variety of other organic non-fossil feedstocks, an analysis by Biofuels Digest concludes.
Last October, the global aviation industry released an emissions containment plan that relied mainly on a combination of carbon offsets and anticipated improvements in aircraft efficiency to reduce emissions. The system is voluntary until 2026, and falls far short of the industry’s long-held promise to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.
“Absent an aggressive introduction of renewable fuels, airlines will miss their carbon targets, and badly,” Biofuels Digest concludes, citing researchers at Utrecht University. Several airlines have flown selected flights on biofuel, but it contributes only a tiny fraction of aviation fuel consumed by commercial carriers—about 0.12% of the 83 billion gallons that airlines burn every year.
To make a meaningful contribution to what the Utrecht analysis describes as a widening “gap” between the industry’s carbon-neutral commitment and what it can achieve through efficiency and offsets—especially as the latter become scarcer after 2030—the industry will face some significant costs.
Biofuel, the researchers calculate, currently costs €762 per ton more than fossil jet fuel. As a means of mitigating emissions, it costs €242 per ton of avoided CO2, a large multiple of recent carbon offset prices in Europe’s mitigation market. On that basis, they conclude, “a level playing field will likely be inadequate to stimulate RJF [Renewable Jet Fuel] uptake. Supplementary measures, such as guaranteed feed-in tariffs, are necessary.”
The researchers suggest “a modest surcharge” of € 0.90 to €4.10 per airline ticket, collected into and distributed through a €10-billion “renewable jet fuel deployment fund,” to achieve 5% market penetration for biofuel by 2030. If airlines adopted biofuels instead of relying on offsets to achieve their carbon neutrality targets, renewables fuel could deliver as much as 20% of supply by then.
Based on anticipated air travel in, to, and from Europe over the next decade, that total “comes down to an extra cost of €0.0007 per passenger-kilometre. It’s not even a rounding error. You’d have to fly 1,400 kilometers to rack up an extra Euro in cost.”
The maritime shipping industry is under the gun in Europe, where legislators have “lost patience” with its inaction on climate change and are now proposing to include the industry in the continent’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).
The EU has given the International Maritime Organization until 2023 to come up with its own emission controls, after decades of delays. If the IMO continues postponing action, the ETS provision will take effect.
“Ship owners are furious, claiming it is wrong that they will effectively be charged for carbon pollution in European Union waters ahead of any wider international arrangement,” Climate News Network reports. But that hasn’t stopped members of the European Parliament from endorsing a environment committee recommendation that shipping be included in the ETS’ carbon cap-and-trade system.
Maritime shipping produces about a gigatonne of carbon per year, accounting for 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and its output is on track to increase 50 to 250% by mid-century.
That projection “is not compatible with the internationally-agreed goal of keeping global temperature increase to below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, which requires worldwide emissions to be at least halved from 1990 levels by 2050,” the European Commission stated.
Ports and cargo owners supported the EU initiative, Brussels-based Transport & Environment reports. The International Chamber of Shipping’s director of policy and external relations, Simon Bennett, complained that “this vote for a unilateral, regional measure simply risks polarizing debate among IMO Member States, which have already agreed to develop a strategy for reducing shipping’s CO2 emissions” consistent with the 2015 Paris Agreement.
But T & E Aviation and Shipping Policy Director Bill Hemmings pointed to the IMO’s “bad track record of failing to act quickly”—dating back as far as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Climate News Net notes.
“This cross-party [European Parliament] proposal will end the anomaly of shipping being the only sector in Europe not contributing to the 2030 emissions reduction targets,” Hemmings said. “EU governments must follow Parliament’s lead and agree that ship CO2 emissions must go in the EU ETS if the IMO does not act. The benefits to our climate through less warming and to our industry and economy through lower fuel costs cannot be ignored.”
(Original text in German/unofficial translation here)
Austria’s Federal Administrative Court has rejected plans to build a third runway at Schwechat Airport in Vienna, citing the significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the additional air traffic.
The project was originally proposed 10 years ago. The latest review featured “detailed examination and consideration of the public interest”, including protection of the public from the impacts of climate change, the court reports.
The three-member administrative panel heard from 28 intervenors, including individuals, community organizations, and the City of Vienna. The Administrative Court release says the decision weighed the greenhouse gas impact of additional air traffic alongside future air travel demand, aviation safety, labour market policy, and a host of environmental considerations, including air quality, noise, impacts on birdwatching, and environmental health.
The judges also reviewed the airport’s plans to reduce emissions on the ground, by installing photovoltaic systems or converting fleets to electric vehicles, but determined they wouldn’t be enough to justify the increase in air traffic.
The international aviation industry has been postponing action to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions for more than a decade, even though its emissions are on track to grow 100 to 200% by 2050 from a 2000 baseline. When the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted a climate plan at its September, 2016 triennial assembly in Montreal, aviation and climate acknowledged the wide reach of the agreement among ICAO member nations. But they noted that the deal would be voluntary for the first six years—so that the industry won’t be obliged to control its emissions until 2027.
Transport & Environment (T&E) and Carbon Market Watch cried foul late last week, after the European Commission proposed to exempt air travel to and from the continent from the EU Emissions Trading System.
The decision followed the Commission’s review of the half-hearted emission reduction deal concluded last fall, at the International Civil Aviation Organization’s triennial assembly in Montreal. That agreement postponed the introduction of a Global Market-Based Measure (GMBM) to control aviation emission until 2021, after more than a decade of persistent delays—then made the 2021 agreement voluntary until 2027.
T&E notes that the EC decision “cuts across the conclusions of its own impact assessment that, even if the recent UN global aviation deal gets off the ground, it will fall well short of the required ambition” on greenhouse gas reductions.
“The Commission has chosen to again suspend the only effective measure to regulate aviation emissions, all for a voluntary deal which is years from coming into operation and which may never actually reduce the climate impact of flying,” said T&E Aviation Director Bill Hemmings. “By letting aviation off the hook again, other sectors will now have to do more on cutting their climate emissions even while air travel demand soars.”
“The EU has once again caved in under pressure from countries like the U.S. and Russia,” added Carbon Market Watch Policy Officer Kelsey Perlman. “The global aviation deal is not strong enough to justify the extension of this derogation. The EU should continue to work towards a global solution, but show climate leadership and not let the international agreement undermine domestic ambition.”
Carbon Market Watch adds that, “while the international scheme is a modest first step to address growing emissions from aviation, it is not in line with the Paris climate agreement’s goal to decarbonize by the second half of this century and limit global temperature rise to below 2°C.”
By exempting flights to and from Europe, the EC decision leaves three-quarters of the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions unregulated, T&E notes. Moreover, “despite an ongoing obligation to act, the proposal continues to ignore the substantial non-CO2 effects of aviation, which have a warming impact equal to or greater than the CO2 effects of flying.”
You may still be getting used to the idea of autonomous vehicles, but don’t get too comfortable: ride-hailing company Uber has set its sights on a fleet of electrically-powered, vertical take-off-and landing (VTOL) vessels to relieve highway congestion with short-haul air travel.
“Every day, millions of hours are wasted on the road worldwide,” Uber notes in a recent post on Medium. “Last year, the average San Francisco resident spent 230 hours commuting between work and home—that’s half a million hours of productivity lost every single day. In Los Angeles and Sydney, residents spend seven whole working weeks each year commuting, two of which are wasted unproductively stuck in gridlock.”
In addition to the resulting air pollution, Uber cites a preventive medicine study that points to higher odds of elevated blood pressure for anyone who commutes more than 10 miles.
“On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commute,” Uber states, adding that a dozen companies are now working on a variety of possible VTOL designs. “The closest equivalent technology in use today is the helicopter, but helicopters are too noisy, inefficient, polluting, and expensive for mass-scale use. VTOL aircraft will make use of electric propulsion so they have zero operational emissions and will likely be quiet enough to operate in cities without disturbing the neighbours.”
Uber expects to find early demand for VTOL among long-distance commuters along congested urban and suburban corridors, and in areas that are poorly served by regular highway infrastructure.
“We also believe that in the long-term, VTOLs will be an affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, even less expensive than owning a car,” the company writes. “Ultimately, if VTOLs can serve the on-demand urban transit case well — quiet, fast, clean, efficient, and safe — there is a path to high production volume manufacturing (at least thousands of a specific model type built per year) which will enable VTOLs to achieve a dramatically lower per-vehicle cost.” At that point, “the economics of manufacturing VTOLs will become more akin to automobiles than aircraft.”
A Brookings Institution study has shed light on the extent to which economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling across the United States. The good news is that 33 states plus the District of Columbia saw their economies grow 22% while their emissions fell 12% between 2000 and 2014, Greentech Media reports. But the longer story is more complicated.
“Emissions decoupling has clearly become more frequent amid the ongoing large-scale switch from coal to natural gas—driven by the hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) boom,” wrote report co-authors Devashree Saha and Mark Muro. “At the same time, numerous other factors are clearly influencing outcomes, ranging from changes in the structure and growth of the national economy, to investment decisions and technology change, to land use change and the availability of clean new energy resources, including renewables.”
But while Saha, a senior policy associate at Brookings, said the results give “licence for a modest degree of optimism,” the results actually tell a mixed story, notes Greentech Media Editor-in-Chief Stephen Lacey.
Replacing coal with natural gas is great for public health, but not a clear win for climate when it isn’t clear how much climate-busting methane is being released into the atmosphere as a result.
The shift from manufacturing to service jobs is reducing America’s carbon footprint. But “almost every service-sector job—from cashier to truck driver—is under threat from automation and artificial intelligence,” Lacey writes. “The steady march of technological progress will help states decarbonize while improving output, but that may spell doom for yet another class of workers.”
(Moreover, offshoring manufacturing doesn’t reduce global emissions if the goods are still produced. It just shifts the burden from one national carbon inventory to another one, and likely increases emissions from international shipping.)
As for wind and solar, Brookings sees them “playing a surprisingly small role so far,” Lacey reports.
“Wind and solar generation have yet to register as broad an impact on decoupling as might be expected—even in the green West,” Saha and Muro state. “While solar and wind’s share of electricity generation has been on the rise, [their] large-scale growth in some states dates only to the last decade, and so this analysis does not find a strong statistical relationship between states’ emissions reductions and solar and wind’s share of power generation.”
While the U.S. is on track to reduce its carbon emissions by 2.1% per year—at least until President-elect Donald Trump takes office—“it will need to achieve a rate of 3.5% a year to meet international targets,” Lacey writes. And ‘there are 20 states that haven’t even hit the 2% decarbonization rate.”
While Saha and Muro are concerned about the prospect of “federal chaos” in the years ahead, their report holds out hope for America under Trump, Greentech notes.
“Local factors (not just federal ones) matter a lot to how this happens,” they write. “Moreover, the trends depicted here suggest that while federal policy reversals could be traumatic, progress on decarbonizing the nation’s economy will likely continue regardless of Donald Trump, driven by technology advances, market dynamics, and state policy.”
Phasing out coal, electrifying transportation, and shifting to zero-energy buildings lead the list of steps humanity must take over the next decade to limit average global warming to 1.5°C over the longer term, climate analysts Bill Hare and Niklas Höhne argue this week in a post on The Conversation.
“While the long-term focus is on 2050 or 2100, what matters now is the next ten years,” they write. “If we miss bending the rising emissions curve downward by around 2020, we may well miss the chance to avoid the worst climate damage.”
But “here’s the good news: for all areas, we show signs that a transition of this magnitude is possible. In many cases, it’s already happening.
Science shows that “the most important, fastest, and cheapest step” in getting climate change under control is to decarbonize electricity generation. And with the plummeting cost and rapid introduction of renewable generation, it looks feasible to eliminate the power sector’s CO2 emissions by mid-century. “If we continue the growth rate of wind and solar we’ve seen in the past few years for the next decade globally,” they write, “we will be well on the way to achieving this goal.”
A coal phase-out is a must, they add, “but that is already happening—and we will need to cancel any new coal capacity in the world.”
Electrifying transportation begins with electric vehicles, which received a boost just before the Marrakech climate conference when China announced EV quotas. “This was a shock for German and other European car manufacturers, who anticipated their future as being based on old fossil fuel technologies,” Hare and Höhne write. “One can only hope that these manufacturers will now rush into electric mobility. We calculate that the last fossil fuel car has to be sold before 2035 to be in line with holding warming to 1.5°C.”
They add that efforts to date to control emissions in aviation and shipping “don’t have the teeth to really make a difference in this sector. There’s also a risk that these measures could obscure the need for much deeper and further-reaching changes.”
Net-zero buildings, carbon controls in forestry and agriculture, and carbon removal from the atmosphere round out Hare and Höhne’s list of the measures that will bring the 1.5°C long-term target within reach. “Technology that removes CO2 from the atmosphere will need to be deployed 30 years from now, to hold warming below 2°C, let alone limit warming to 1.5°C,” they write. “If we are successful and throw everything at the problem, plus the proverbial kitchen sink, we still need to be preparing to deploy negative emissions technologies from the 2040s onward.
“About the only good news from this is that we have time to research this, test it, and work out the most sustainable way of doing it.”
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has picked 2023 as the year it will deliver a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.
The IMO will release an initial plan in 2018, Climate Home reports. But in a late-night compromise hammered out by 45 countries meeting last week in London, UK, “governments will only finalize the strategy after a three-year project to capture ship-level fuel use data, which starts in 2019.”
International shipping “is responsible for nearly 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but has historically struggled to deliver a consensus on how to cut carbon pollution,” writes Climate Home correspondent Ed King. “A 2014 IMO study said these could rise 50-250% by 2050.”
The IMO called the decision “an important milestone on the road to controlling greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.” Climate and energy groups heartily disagreed.
“This can in no way be seen as an adequate response” to the Paris Agreement, said Clean Shipping Coalition President John Maggs. “What is urgently needed is a clear sense of the scale of emission reductions to keep warming to safe levels.”
“Apparently the IMO prefers open-ended reviews to concrete action,” added Bill Hemmings, shipping director at Transport and Environment.
“It’s a start, but there is no urgency here for me,” said WWF-UK Marine Manager Simon Walmsley. “If they can measure fuel, they can save fuel. It needs to be done faster, and it needs to inform the climate change strategy.”
Earlier in the week, Climate Home reported that the IMO’s decision to cut maximum sulphur content in marine fuels from 3.5 to 0.5% by 2020 could prevent 200,000 premature deaths per year. “This is a landmark decision and we are very pleased that the world has bitten the bullet and is now tackling poisonous sulphuric fuel,” Hemmings said.
But “the battle to get this deal has been immense, and raises questions over the capability of the IMO to deliver a similar agreement on climate change,” King wrote at the time.
An honest approach to reporting results will be essential for an international aviation agreement that is already being misinterpreted as a commitment to hold the industry’s carbon emissions to 2020 levels, according to a post last week on the flyingless blog.
“From the perspective of our campaign to change the culture of flying in academia, I have to see the agreement as inadequate,” writes Tufts University food policy specialist Parke Wilde. “The agreement is voluntary, relies too much on offsets in place of actual emission reductions, and gives too little attention to restraining aviation demand.”
Some observers have been more positive than others about the deal reached in Montreal earlier this month by the International Civil Aviation Organization, Wilde acknowledges. But either way, “nobody should say that the ICAO agreement agrees to ‘limit aviation emissions to 2020 levels,’” he notes. “That is the misleading but commonly heard shorthand for what the agreement says. The agreement actually relies mostly on carbon offsets from sectors other than aviation, such as planting trees or capturing carbon.”
That reality points to the need to attribute most of the carbon offset credits to the sectors that actually produce them, recognize that the goals of the ICAO deal can’t be met by offsets alone, and explain that the airlines only committed to “net” greenhouse gas targets, not absolute cuts.
“With honest reporting, even the environmental NGOs that are somewhat inclined to favour the agreement should be endlessly emphasizing that it is merely a first step,” Wilde stresses. “Any language describing this agreement as a major solution to aviation emissions serves to undermine public understanding of the need for a major culture change toward reduced demand for aviation.”
Ontario will buy 14 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity from Hydro-Québec under a seven-year deal announced Friday by Premiers Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard.
“Ontario will reduce electricity system costs for consumers by about $70 million from previous forecasts by importing up to two terawatt hours annually of clean hydro power from Quebec at targeted times when natural gas would otherwise be used,” the province said in a release. “Ontario will also leverage Quebec’s energy storage capacities to make better use of its own clean energy resources,” and “reserve 500 MW of capacity for Hydro-Québec to meet Quebec’s winter peak demand.”
The two provinces will also cooperate to develop a high-speed electric vehicle charging network, with Ontario committing to 200 new chargers by the end of March 2017 along Highway 401, the main Ontario corridor that connects the two provinces.
“This is a win, win, win situation,” said Équiterre Senior Director Steven Guilbeault. “It’s good for Ontario ratepayers who will pay less for their electricity, for Quebec because it will be able to sell some of its electricity surplus, and for the planet, since it will result in lower greenhouse gas emissions” by reducing Ontario’s use of natural gas.
“We congratulate Premiers Wynne and Couillard for working together to further integrate the electricity systems of our two provinces for mutual advantage,” said Ontario Clean Air Alliance Chair Jack Gibbons. “By importing Quebec water and wind power, Ontario can lower its electricity bills, reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and close the 45-year-old Pickering nuclear station in 2018, when its licence expires.”
OCAA Outreach Director Angela Bischoff calls the deal “an important beginning to a new, more integrated approach to meeting the needs of both provinces: Ontario gets reliable, low-cost, clean renewable power while Quebec gets more value from its growing surplus of water and wind power.”
But she stresses that the announcement “should be just the beginning of a beautiful friendship as our two systems are well matched: Ontario needs to lower costs and move away from its overwhelming reliance on increasingly expensive nuclear power, and Quebec needs to find new buyers for its growing supply of renewable energy.”
A coalition of maritime shippers and their organizations is calling on governments to adopt “ambitious” climate targets at a meeting in London this week, now that an agreement on aviation emissions has left shipping as the only sector in the world not bound by some form of climate agreement.
“It is time to recognize the important role which the global shipping industry must play in holding global temperatures well below 2°C,” the shippers wrote in a letter to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). “Shipping’s emissions are expected to substantially increase over the coming years. To curb this trajectory, IMO countries must demonstrate that they can match the ambition and pace of the UN climate body, the UNFCCC,” the agency behind the Paris Agreement.
Shipping emissions currently stand at about 1,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, compared to 781 MT from aviation, and “are forecast to rise to nearly 17% of the world’s total over the next 30 years if left unregulated,” The Guardian reports.
“The IMO and the industry needs to act fast,” a spokesperson for Brussels-based Transport & Environment told The Guardian’s John Vidal. “Shipping emissions are forecast to rise by 50 to 250% by 2050 if unchecked. The IMO sticks out like a sore thumb.”
During the IMO meeting, “progressive” shippers will have to overcome opposition from developing countries with major shipping interests, as well as lobbying by fossil industries and other trade associations, The Guardian notes. “Led by China, Brazil, and some small island states like the Cook Islands, one group has argued in IMO meetings that because shipping is a truly international industry, it cannot be regulated in the same way as countries, and must not be rushed into cuts,” Vidal notes. “It says the world’s 100,000 big ships have already reduced emissions considerably, but more data and analysis is needed.”
Until those systems are in place, argues a group led by the Baltic and International Maritime Council, “there is insufficient data to determine whether or not it would be realistic for IMO to adopt a firm contribution on behalf of the sector.”
According to documents obtained by The Guardian, the Cook Islands reversed position on climate change at the Paris conference last year, to lead opposition to shipping industry emission cuts.“Shipping must be profitable and has to keep growing to survive,” the country’s negotiator stated. “Any notion on imposing a system that would increase transport cost and availability of freight even further would be extremely detrimental to least developed countries and small island developing states, and severely impact on our economic security while inhibiting growth and development potential.”