Monthly Archives: July 2018

Air travel to be world’s most polluting industry?

by Jon Barrance, July 2018

I was very heartened to see that Julie Girling, one of our local MEPs for the South West, has recognised that the aviation industry is failing to live up to its responsibilities to reduce carbon emissions.

As a retired aerospace engineer (I worked for Airbus on the design and certification of the A400M wing) I have become increasingly aware that the Industry’s plans and actions do not add up – neither to the aspirations of the Paris Agreement nor even to their own CORSIA agreement. While there have been significant reductions in the emissions of individual aircraft these are more than counteracted by the planned growth of air traffic. At the same time the opportunities for further reductions in the emissions produced by future aircraft are limited by the technologies involved in aircraft design and alternative fuels. The study by the Centre for Alternative Technology, Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future demonstrates that it is possible for aviation to have a future in a zero carbon situation, restricting it to long range travel, but not at the density of traffic envisaged by the industry.

Two factors put aviation in a uniquely difficult position – aircraft design is dependant on the energy density provided by hydrocarbon fuels and the emissions of airliners cruising at altitude have an increased effect on the environment. My present observations of and connections with the aircraft industry, through Cranfield University, do not encourage me to believe that there is sufficient ambition in current research to achieve the reduction in emissions required.

As for offsets – they are already largely discredited, and as emissions in other sectors are reduced to net zero there will be little left to offset against.

There is a stark warning here for the Industry – it has to face up to a future that will limit the growth of air travel and it has to find carbon sequesters that it can properly offset its emissions against. Otherwise it will become the most polluting industry on the planet.


Press release from Julie Girling, MEP – 28 June 2018

Emissions reduction aspirations may have been badly weakened by the recent ICAO agreement

(Or read on Julie Girling’s website.)

The International Civil Aviation Organisation, the global aviation governing body to which almost all nations are signatories, has agreed the recommended standards and practices phase of its landmark carbon reduction programme: The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). While this should be a step towards securing a greener and more sustainable future, serious deficiencies threaten to undermined hard fought concessions. Ambitious targets of carbon neutral growth from 2020 are increasingly at risk – on a global scale – with concessions to oil producing nations, the withdrawal of China and the offset itself now in the long grass.
Mrs Julie Girling MEP, the Rapporteur who guided the EU ETS through the European Parliament was largely disappointed with the outcome:
‘I am very disappointed, although not altogether surprised, at this outcome. The only real positive seems to be the push to complete the MRV process. The offset can has been kicked down the road to avoid confrontation which doesn’t augur well for future agreement. The decision on fossil fuels is a bizarre and unnecessary concession to oil producing countries including the US. China is out of the pilot stage; this is very bad news, States seem to be moving away from consensus causing frustration amongst many EU Member States.
It is now even more important for Europe to make an immediate reservation and re-assert the right to continue with the EU ETS. The EU takes its Paris commitments seriously and its increasingly clear that there is a real danger of the global scheme through CORSIA failing to deliver.
On a UK domestic note I just wonder how the development of Heathrow can be squared with the UK’s own climate commitments and the stalemate emerging on global action for aviation.’


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