Climate: Aviation industry eyes CO2 emissions standard

Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation are a huge factor in the global climate change puzzle. @bberwyn photo.

Watchdogs say global carbon-trading system for airlines is needed to cap emissions

Staff Report

After years of foot-dragging, the aviation industry is close to adopting a CO2 emissions standard for aircraft, which will require aircraft builders to start producing more fuel efficient planes.

A group of technical experts with the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed on the proposed standard this week; the organization is expected to adopt the standard at an annual meeting this spring. The industry will also start to consider an overall cap on emissions at 2020 levels. The ICAO could take a vote on such a cap, as well as a carbon-trading program, later this year.

The step is important because if international aviation were a country, it would be a top ten emitter of CO2 on par with Germany or the United Kingdom. And it’s expected to grow enormously as global travel increases. More than 50,000 new large aircraft slated to take to the skies in the next few decades, potentially quadrupling emissions if left unchecked.

And the new Paris climate deal doesn’t cover airline emissions. Instead, the UN’s climate change bureaucracy left it up to the industry to police itself.



“The standard appears to be ambitious as it applies to new types of large aircraft,” said Annie Petsonk,  international counsel with the Environmental Defense Fund, which has been tracking the saga of airline greenhouse gas emissions.

“Having more efficient aircraft take to the sky can help airlines begin to slow aviation’s skyrocketing climate pollution. That’s a positive step, and ICAO and the Obama Administration are to be commended for it,” Petsonk said.

But there’s room for improvement, she added, explaining that there’s a possible loophole with regard to aircraft already under construction. Another technical review scheduled for 2019 could tighten up the standards. For now, the industry should already be aiming to improve the efficiency of aircraft coming off production lines.

“The recommended CO2 standard is only one part of a set of agreements under negotiation in ICAO. Less than two months after countries reached a landmark climate deal in Paris, the standard takes a useful first step,” Petsonk said. “As the spotlight shifts, we look to the Obama Administration to lead the drive to get agreement on the real prize this fall: a market-based measure to cap aviation emissions and drive pollution down, not up.”



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