Rhein on Energy and Climate

At their meeting in Kuala Lumpur the IATA members have committed to achieve “C02 neutral” growth by 2020. Even if this commitment is vague, the fact that the airline industry has started to engage in a discussion on how to cope with climate change is by itself a signal that it sees the necessity to do something about its high level of C02 emissions. Air transport is indeed a major climate polluter, contributing some two percent to global C02 emissions.

According to the IATA chief executive, airlines are technically able to reduce their carbon print by 80 percent through improvements of fuel efficiency and switching to biofuels. Fuel efficiency could rise by 1.5 percent annually in the next 10 years. Switching to biofuels will require time to adjust. A lot of research will have to be undertaken to this end by engine manufactures, in conjunction with plane makers and air lines. The first tests with bio fuels being added to kerosene have been satisfactory.

Airline companies and engine manufacturers will hesitate to invest in new technologies without external pressure. Such pressure will come from rising oil prices, which make it more attractive to resort to biofuels. But we cannot rely on oil prices rising sufficiently fast and high to precipitate the change-over from kerosene to biofuels.

Governments therefore have to step in:

· By adopting appropriate fuel efficiency standards. Ideally they should copy EU/USA practice for light vehicles: fix increasingly stricter C02 emission standards for newly commissioned air planes. Manufacturers would be free how to adapt to these, most probably by providing engines that run on a mixture of kerosene and biofuel to start with. But this approach would take 40 years before fully effective after the full replacement of present fleets of aircraft.

· by including air lines into the C02 cap and trade regimes. The EU has announced its intention to do so for all aircraft using EU airports as of 2013. It has to convince other countries to follow suit, above all the USA.

Air transport is largely an international business. Regulating C02 emissions therefore requires binding international rules. The Copenhagen Climate Conference therefore also needs to define the ground rules for air transport.

Brussels 09.06.09 Eberhard Rhein

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