Climate: Airlines targeted for big emissions cuts

Airlines could cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly simply by adopting the best available technologies. @bberwyn photo.

Existing technology enough to achieve big reductions, new report says

Staff Report

A new report shows that the world’s airlines could use existing technology to cut heat-trapping greenhouse emissions by 50 percent in the next few decades.

The report came as high-level officials prepare to meet in Paris to finalize a global climate deal aimed at trying to cap global warming at 2 degrees Celsius.The Center for Biological Diversity outlined the report’s findings in a letter to Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change. Airlines with the worst fuel efficiency could reduce their carbon footpring simply by matching the efficiency of the best performers, according to the letter.

“This report’s dramatic findings show why the Obama administration must support strong action against airplane pollution in Paris,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Airplanes pose a high-flying menace to our climate. If this rapidly growing pollution source is not included in an international climate treaty, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prevent catastrophic warming.”

Language folding aviation emissions into this goal was recently deleted from the negotiating Paris text and replaced by vague language that makes no mention of a temperature cap.

The report examined the top 20 airlines’ fuel efficiency for nonstop transatlantic flights linking Europe, the United States and Canada. Norwegian Air Shuttle ranked first in fuel efficiency, while British Airways ranked last.

Factors leading to Norwegian’s much better performance included newer airplanes, the use of efficient Boeing 787-8 aircraft, and a smaller proportion of business and first class seats.

If aviation were considered a country, it would rank seventh after Germany in terms of carbon emissions — and the industry’s emissions are set to more than triple by 2050.

The aviation industry has fought measures to curb its carbon pollution for nearly two decades. It now appears to support aviation standards under discussion by the International Civil Aviation Organization that would cover just 5 percent of the existing fleet by 2030 and barely bend the curve of its steeply rising greenhouse gas pollution.

While fighting meaningful standards, the industry touts carbon offsets as the way to achieve its professed goal of carbon-neutral growth by 2020. Offsets, however, are notoriously difficult to trace, verify and monitor, and some do nothing for the climate at all because their purported carbon savings are illusory.

Cost-effective, technology-driven greenhouse gas standards for new and existing planes, on the other hand, verifiably prevent and avoid greenhouse gases in the first place, rather than merely “offsetting” them.


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