When Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, suggested that the FAA’s efforts to reduce so-called greenhouse-gas emissions were “tangential” to other agency objectives, Daniel Elwell, assistant administrator for the FAA office of aviation policy, planning and development, begged to differ.
The FAA representative informed the House committee the agency has a five-pronged plan to tackle aviation emissions and other environmental issues, including noise impact, air and water quality, global climate change and new energy sources. This plan includes improving the scientific understanding of the impact of aviation emissions; accelerating air traffic management improvements and efficiencies to reduce fuel burn; hastening environmental improvements in aircraft technology; exploring alternative fuels for aviation; and market-based measures such as emissions trading, tax incentives and carbon offsets.
Elwell told the committee early last month that between 2000 and 2006, aviation carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. declined by about 4 percent. He added that during the same period, aviation carbon dioxide emissions in Europe increased by around 30 percent.
Europe’s plan to include aviation in its emissions trading program has generated much controversy. According to Thomas Windmuller, senior v-p of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the European Union’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) “is green in name only. As currently designed, it will act as a carbon tax and reduce the resources airlines have to effectively address this challenge.”
Windmuller called the ETS an illegal, unilateral plan that proposes to address a global problem with a shortsighted, piecemeal approach. “It is bad policy that will hinder rather than help us all reach our goal of carbon neutrality and, ultimately, zero carbon emissions,” he said.
IATA seeks to improve fuel efficiency by 25 percent by 2020, he added, but the U.S. Air Transport Association has an “even tougher target” of 30 percent by 2025. “Their leadership will serve as an example to the rest of the world,” Windmuller said.
While Markey acknowledged that aviation emissions currently account for only 12 percent of U.S. transportation emissions and only 3 percent of emissions nationally and worldwide, he said that the rapidly increasing number of flights will exacerbate aviation emissions. He said that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that aviation emissions could double or triple by 2050, even assuming efficiency and infrastructure improvements.
IATA’s Windmuller told the committee that according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, aviation produces 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and could reach 3 percent of global emissions by 2050 under a “business as usual” scenario.
Put differently, last year commercial air transport emitted 672 million tons of CO2, and that number would grow at less than 3 percent per annum if the industry were to continue on a “normal” path. “That is, if we take no action, commercial aviation will represent 3 percent of global CO2 emissions in 42 years,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the ranking Republican on the House committee. “Thus, while any growth in emissions is of concern, the suggestion that aviation emissions are soaring is simply not accurate.”
Truly International Plan Needed
Markey reminded that states, cities and organizations have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate aviation greenhouse gas emissions and Congress is currently considering aviation fuels under a cap-and-trade system.
“The European Commission plans to integrate domestic and U.S. flights into the EU trading system,” Markey said. “As local governments and other nations move to limit the impact of aviation on the environment, Congress cannot linger in a holding pattern.”
Sensenbrenner noted that aviation produces just a tiny fraction of the world’s greenhouse gases. “Of my many curiosities about this topic, perhaps the most pressing is why the aviation industry is a major focus in the global warming debate,” he said.
According to the congressman, an EU commissioner threatened in March that if the U.S. didn’t join the EU emission trading scheme or apply a similar program to U.S. airlines by 2010, EU states could begin denying incoming U.S. flights in 2012.
“I wonder if this threat also applies to India and China, each of which has a growing airline industry to meet the demand of its growing economy,” Sensenbrenner asked. “In fact, testimony today will show these two countries will build 100 new airports over the next decade to meet the demand. And no, India and China do not have emission trading systems of their own.”
If large-scale changes are needed in the aviation industry, he said, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the best place to address these questions.
Elwell testified that the U.S. does not oppose emissions trading out of hand, and participated in the development of emissions trading guidance for aviation under the auspices of ICAO. The U.S. and the rest of the world, except for Europe, agreed on this guidance last September for countries that decide to employ emissions trading for international aviation.
“The overwhelming majority of countries–developed and developing, Kyoto signatories and non-Kyoto signatories–all agreed emissions trading should be applied to another country’s airlines only on the basis of agreement between states,” said Elwell. “European countries refused to join consensus, as their proposed legislation would force international airlines into their emissions trading system without the consent of governments.”
He added that the U.S. has “significant concerns” about the EU legislation that is currently being developed to place aviation into the ETS. “On top of the legal issues with respect to the Chicago Convention and our air services agreements,” he continued, “recent discussions with EU officials made clear that adoption of emissions trading for aviation has become an end in itself, rather than improving environmental performance.”