Andrew Murphy – Governments Can Stop Other Airlines Joining Ryanair as Top-10 Emitter

Aviation is the most carbon-intensive mode of transport, and Europe’s fastest-growing source of emissions. Time to stop the rot.

Andrew Murphy writes on aviation for Transport & Environment

Cross-posted from Transport & Environment

Ryanair grabbed headlines earlier this month after it was revealed that it’s now a top 10 carbon emitter in Europe. But for those of us working on aviation and climate, the news came as no surprise. Aviation emissions have been soaring for years. And as other sectors’ emissions decline, aviation has been climbing up the climate rankings. Aviation is the most carbon intensive mode of transport, Europe’s fastest growing source of emissions, and with its emissions having grown 26% in five years, Europe’s greatest climate failure.

But that change of direction won’t come from the industry. These figures highlight the fact that, left to their own devices, airlines will only see their emissions continue to grow. Ryanair’s defence is that it operates some of the newest, ‘cleanest’ aircraft. That may be true, but such efficiencies did not stop their emissions growing 6.9% in 2018 – and a whopping 49% since 2013.

That’s because as flying becomes more efficient, it becomes cheaper, and as it becomes cheaper, more people fly. This is known in climate speak as the ‘efficiency paradox’ and it’s one of the main reasons for soaring aviation emissions. Airlines are only doing what they do best – burning kerosene in order to fly the maximum number of people the furthest distances. The latest figures show that it’s something they are very good at.

In the end, this cycle of more efficient aircraft burning ever more kerosene will only be broken when regulators step in. But, to date, European governments have decided to leave aviation untaxed and under-regulated. Airlines are allowed to buy kerosene tax free – a privilege no motorist enjoys when filling up with petrol – while plane tickets remain almost entirely exempt from VAT. At the same time governments continue to throw subsidies at new airports, new aircraft – including the A380 – and loss-making airports scattered around Europe.

European governments have been equally irresponsible when it comes to the soon-to-be-launched global offsetting scheme for international aviation. Offsetting – paying other people to cut your emissions instead of cutting your own – is the most discredited climate policy in the world. Decades of experience with offsetting have left us with forests that were actually burned down and dams which collapsed, to name just two examples.

That’s why the EU has decided to stop allowing offsets to be counted towards emission reduction climate targets from 2021 onwards, with the exception of the aviation sector, which will be permitted to use them if the global offsetting measure is measure is adopted.

If we want to cut and then bring aviation emissions to zero, we need to change the fuel we put into aircraft, because electric planes are decades away and planes sold today will still be operating in the 2050s.

Zero-carbon fuels do exist – but these will not necessarily be biofuels, which either drive deforestation or, if they do deliver emission reductions, are limited in supply. Rather, the greatest potential to decarbonise aviation fuels comes from new fuels know as synthetic kerosene. These are fuels produced using large amounts of renewable electricity and CO2 captured from the atmosphere. It’s not a new technology but because other sectors have easier paths to decarbonise, and because we haven’t been serious about decarbonising aviation, they haven’t gotten a look in.

The aviation industry, like any other industry, cannot decarbonise itself. The task is too great, and the time frame too short. These figures should shock governments into doing what they should have started doing decades ago – taxing the sector, and putting money and regulation into the technology that can bring its emissions to zero.

Ryanair is the first airline to break into the top 10 emitters, but it’s up to governments as to whether they will be joined by others.

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1 Comment

  1. The efficiency paradox is only the top of the iceberg. I hardly dare say anything against pie-in-the-sky global warming schemes, which I would not call schemes but something like it, for I would be denying AGW. However, flying, especially short-haul, is without a doubt a polluting activity which it would be politically difficult to rein in and technically difficult to reduce the carbon footprint of. Fuel is only one of the items. When speaking of any measure which is said to reduce the carbon footprint, invariably a host of economic activities are blithely ignored, and the notion that taxing fossil fuel use will not make things worse, nay, that taxing fossil fuel use will make the problem go away is almost too bizarre for words. For Europe, the best thing would be to ban flying altogether. I don’t fly within Europe, or very rarely, and then only as part of an intercontinental flight ticket. I used to cycle all over Western Europe, and I think long-distance cycle ways should be mandatory a part of infra-structure. The EU kleptocracy has other plans. Flying is not to be discouraged. Making it more expensive is not the answer either. Money is like water. It flows and goes, the quicker the turnaround, the more economic, so-called, activity, the bigger the carbon footprint. At risk of getting deleted, no worries, Matthew, almost all political grandstanding about climate change increases the overall carbon footprint because the effect of money spent by entities and persons who do not any productive work to “earn” it. The HS2 project is a case in point. It cannot be made to pay economically under any circumstances except by financial jiggery-pokery through which the moneys spent are only partly accounted for and the costs involved during the life of such a project are not fully accounted for and attributed. I know it is pointless arguing with people who are in power and who have only dollar signs in their sights. Change the government and you can change the world. In the UK it might happen, after the revolution. The EU will have to collapse of its own accord. I can’t see the current kleptocrats moved by being unseated. To stop flying over Europe would occasion a revolution. How would people get around? Now there’s a thought. Look at PM May. What a complete waste of resources her gadding about Europe because she refuses to implement the result of the ONCE IN A LIFETIME DECISION, ITS YOUR DECISION, NOT OURS( Dacid Cameron). There will be no other referendum, they, the great and good, said at the time. A lot of gadding about is uneconomical. I would be much in favour of rationing in that regard. Don’t we have the internet now? It would be a demand economy. If it’s needed, it may be tax-deductible. Strange we never hear about travel costs when people go on about climate change. I get around a bit, and pay for it myself. I know people who get around and meet all these high-flyers flying all over the world, staying in the most expensive hotels, getting paid a million or half a million American dollars per annum for, for what?, for screwing countries economically, enabling and, indeed, encouraging corruption everywhere. I don’t hear the Left much about that. The (western) world’s financial system is a huge scam. Clean that up and there would be a fraction of the flying that happens now. Well, it ain’t going to happen until the world’s economy collapses, which will do the environment a world of good. The Left, to give it credit, is doing it’s best. The more the globalising corporates are assisted gaining total power, the sooner the entire edifice will go like the house of card-sharps that it is. It will happen, in it’s own good time. Btw, I grow 2.5 tons of carbon every year to compensate my travels, never owned a car bar two months when I had a very old beetle and still cycle and walk whenever possible, otherwise use public transport, mostly busses. There, the more thrifty you are, the smaller the carbon footprint. I’d hate to think what carbon footprint the AGW protagonists have. They don’t tell us, do they?

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