Raise carbon price to address aviation emissions, says Airports Commission

  • 01 Jul 2015, 14:45
  • Sophie Yeo
Heathrow airport departures sign with a plane in the sky

Heathrow airport | Shutterstock

The Airports Commission has  recommended a third runway at Heathrow, advising that this is the best way to expand the UK's aviation sector.

While some, such as  Chancellor George Osborne, have focused on the boost that airport expansion could bring to the UK's economy, others have expressed doubt over whether the UK can simultaneously cater for increased demand for flights and hit its legally binding emissions targets.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended that, in order for the UK to cut its emissions 80% by 2050, emissions from aviation must be limited to 2005 levels. At this time, the sector emitted 37.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

In February 2013, CCC chairman Lord Deben  wrote to Howard Davies, the head of the commission, to highlight the limitations imposed on the aviation industry by the need to constrain its carbon emissions.

Davies has attempted to alleviate Deben's climate concerns in a  letter published today alongside the final commission report.

An exchange of views

Research by the commission in preparation for the report reveals the difficulties of expanding the UK's airport capacity and staying within the 37.5MtCO2 cap.

A new runway at either Heathrow and Gatwick would push the UK's aviation sector beyond this limit - although Heathrow expansion would do so by a wider margin. Carbon Brief has already  explained the consequences in detail.

In his letter to Davies, Deben wrote:

"Aviation emissions at 2005 levels could be achieved with fuel and operational efficiency improvements, use of sustainable biofuels and by limiting demand growth to around 60% by 2050 compared to 2005."

But limiting growth to 60% is easier said than done. The CCC  says that the number of passengers travelling by aeroplane could grow by more than 200% if airport expansion is unconstrained and there is no attempt to put a price on carbon.

With some constraints and a carbon price of £200 per tonne of CO2 by 2050, growth in demand could be limited to 115% says the CCC - but this is still almost double its target.


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Explainer: Aviation's battle to limit rising emissions

  • 30 Jun 2015, 10:45
  • Sophie Yeo
Aircraft Landing

Aircraft landing | Shutterstock

Tomorrow, the Airports Commission is expected to make its recommendation on how to expand the aviation industry in the UK.

Sir Howard Davies, the economist behind the report, has weighed up three options: a new runway at Heathrow, a new runway at Gatwick, and extending Heathrow's northern runway. 

But a question mark hangs over how the new runway would be compatible with the UK's climate change targets, rendering it an issue of not where it should be built, but whether it should be built at all.

The UK's dilemma is a microcosm of the global story of rapid expansion in the aviation industry, at a time when emissions need to rapidly decrease.

UK aviation emissions

Under the UK's 2008 Climate Change Act, emissions must be reduced by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.

In 2009, the government  decided that aviation emissions must be capped at 2005 levels - 37.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) - by 2050. However, in 2012, it  said it would not officially incorporate this target into its legally binding carbon budgets due to policy uncertainty at an international level.

Nonetheless, the government has informally left space within its carbon budgets to accommodate 37.5MtCO2 from the aviation sector in 2050.

Currently, aviation emissions are set to far exceed 2005 levels in 2050. Even if no new runways are built in the UK, CO2 emissions are expected to be at 47Mt in 2050, according to  statistics from the Department of Transport.

Aviation Infographic FinalClick to expand. Credit: Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief

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Government can't take credit for steep 2014 emissions cuts, says Committee on Climate Change

  • 30 Jun 2015, 00:01
  • Sophie Yeo & Robert McSweeney

In its latest progress report, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) delivers its verdict on how effective government policy has been in achieving the UK's legislated climate targets.

The report is a story of good news with serious qualifications. In 2014, emissions fell  dramatically in the UK, meaning that the government will comfortably remain within the  carbon budgets outlining the rate of decarbonisation up to 2022.

But can the government take the credit for the reductions? And will it be able to continue at its current pace?

With a number of key policies set to expire, the future looks uncertain, says the CCC.  Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, says:

"The government has put into place a series of programmes which properly meets its [current] requirements, but it has very urgently to move those forward if it's going to be in that same place in two or three years' time, certainly in five years' time."

A good year

UK emissions fell steeply in 2014. But the government cannot take the credit, say the CCC.

Between 2009 and 2013, emissions fell at an annual average rate of just 1%. In 2014, the rate of reduction increased to 8%, which is impressive - on the surface.

This 8% fall puts the UK's emissions 36% below 1990 levels. The UK is now well within its second carbon budget, covering the period 2013 to 2017, during which it needs to achieve a 29% reduction on 1990 levels. Even if emissions fell no further, it would meet its third carbon budget of a 35% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020.

But there are serious questions about whether these reductions can be sustained in the long term.

According to the CCC, the reductions were partly due to a mild winter, which meant there was low demand for heating. Adjusted to reflect this, the CCC says emissions would have still fallen by 6%. At this rate, the UK could achieve its 2050 target of an 80% reduction on 1990 levels 15 years early.

This was not the only one-off event which influenced 2014 emissions.

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The Carbon Brief Interview: Janos Pasztor

  • 26 Jun 2015, 17:30
  • Leo Hickman
Janos Pasztor at the 2015 climate talks in Bonn

Janos Pasztor | Carbon Brief

Janos Pasztor was appointed Ban Ki-moon's assistant secretary-general on climate change in January 2015. He will serve as the UN secretary-general's senior advisor on climate change until the climate conference in Paris in December. Previously, he was director of policy and science at WWF International in Switzerland. From 2011 to 2012, he served as the executive secretary of the UN secretary-general's high-level panel on global sustainability.

Pasztor on how much time Ban Ki-moon is dedicating to climate change: "There is not another subject that he spends as much time on as climate change."

On the importance of tackling climate change: "If we don't fix climate change, all the development advances that we have achieved will go backwards again."

On the role of Ban Ki-moon: "[His] all this is to keep reminding ourselves of what the science tells us and what the science tells us where we need to be and where we are now."

On the importance of climate finance: "We need a lot of trust in this negotiation process. To have a finance package be resolved...this would be very helpful for the overall negotiation process."

On whether the world could tackle climate change without the UN: " not happening fast enough...We need a global agreement that clarifies the direction in which we are going and, therefore, accelerates the whole process. Who else can do this other than the UN?"

On whether the 1.5C target is still politically possible? "It is possible. The feasibility is more difficult, let's be honest."

On the need for a ratchet mechanism in the Paris deal: "We have to be sure that in the agreement there is a good system of monitoring and review...ratchet up the ambition over time, correcting and adjusting as needs be, to make sure that we can move off the 4-5C pathway."

On the need for a long-term goal in the Paris deal: "The long-term goal also has to address adaptation and address the financing  of developing countries."


CB: What proportion of Ban Ki-moon's working week is he dedicating to climate change?

JP: Wow, it's a lot! He has consistently, since his first term, been very much focused on climate change. It's hard to say how many hours. We don't count the hours when your secretary general; the days and the weeks and so on. But I can tell you that I don't think there is another subject that he has to deal with - and there are many - there is not another subject that he spends as much time on as climate change.

CB: And at what point did it become this intense? At the summit last September in New York? Has this been a dominant theme for the last two years? Or was it particularly 2015?

JP: No, no. It goes back to his first term. He's been there now for eight years. And his interests and his engagement in climate change was from the very beginning, shortly after he became secretary-general. And the first major event where he was in action was at the Bali conference and this was in 2007. That's where he was then  he spoke very engagingly and then he left and the negotiations were not going well so he came back and got the people together and said, "You've got to agree on something". That's how the Bali agreement was finalised. That was his first real interaction and after that he formulated a strategy that he really needs to deal with this particular issue as it was so important to everything that the United Nations does. If we don't fix climate change, all the development advances that we have achieved will go backwards again: the impact on poverty and food security, and all the things of the UN stands for.  So he recognised it quite early and he said this is something I have to focus on. Then he went on and has been focused on this ever since. It's not just this year or last year. It's a long-term, eight-year project.

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In-depth: the science behind the papal encyclical

  • 19 Jun 2015, 18:00
  • Sophie Yeo

giulio napolitano | Shutterstock

Pope Francis attempted to start a global conversation yesterday with his new  encyclical on the environment. Unlike most encyclicals, it was addressed not to Catholics, but to "every person living on this planet".

There was one group, however, that received particular attention: scientists. For a select number, including climatologists, botanists, and oceanographers, the conversation began long before the Vatican presented its much-anticipated document in Rome yesterday.

Their influence can be found throughout the 184-page document, which some had  speculated could be filled with theological obscurities rather than an empirical call to action on climate change.

They needn't have worried. The apostolic exhortations and catechisms were relegated to second place behind the Pope's concerns about melting ice caps, methane gas and carbon credits.

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The story of the papal encyclical, as told by the media

  • 18 Jun 2015, 15:00
  • Sophie Yeo
Pope Francis in l'Espresso

L'Espresso story | l'Espresso

After months of speculation and expectation, the Pope has released an encyclical about climate change and our species' relationship with its natural environment.

An  encyclical is the highest form of communication that the Pope can issue. Today's  wide-ranging missive covers everything from batteries to deforestation, and from carbon credits to ecological debt.

This week, the 184-page document has dominated climate-related media coverage. Carbon Brief looks at how the Vatican's input into the global climate conversation was received.

Media frenzy

Media reaction intensified in the moments after the Vatican dropped the encyclical into the public domain at midday today in Rome. However, journalists' prepping had no doubt been aided by the leaked Italian version, which emerged in Italian magazine  L'Espresso on Monday.

The Washington Post rounded up reaction, ranging from "over-the-top enthusiasm" to "harsh dismissal", from figures such as German environment minister Barbara Hendricks and  snowball-throwing climate sceptic US senator Jim Inhofe.

TheBBC focused on the encyclical's call for the "end of fossil fuels".  The Guardian looked at its concern for the poor.  The Daily Mail included comments from those opposed to the pro-renewables stance of the encyclical.

There was a discernible effort to fit the Pope's message around unique, if niche, interests.

"'Dear Texas,' Pope Francis might as well have called his encyclical," said Texan paper  San Antonio Express News The Washington Times believed that the Pope had "blasted the Obama administration", despite there being no mention of Obama, or any other politician, by name in the text. "He is too polite to mention readers of The Guardian but we know what he means," said  The Telegraph.

Business-focused publications looked at the effect the encyclical could have on the corporate world.  Business Green said that the encyclical amounts to a "clarion call to businesses and society to step up efforts to tackle climate change". Its message will be "considered pretty seriously by at least 1.2bn consumers - the world's Catholic population", said  GreenBiz Reuters focused on the Pope's dislike of carbon credits.

The Guardian The Telegraph and  RTCC deemed the launch worthy of a live blog, where they captured the action and reaction as it unfolded.

Former BP chief Lord Browne tipped his hat to the Pope in  Gay Star News. He said: "I am sure that many Gay Star News readers disagree with the Pope on matters to do with sexuality. But I must confess that his call to action on climate change is right."

Others focused on the politics of the document.  The Conversation said its significance lies in how it "explicitly advocates that people turn to the political process when it comes to important decisions about the future of the planet".

Its influence in the political sphere was played out even ahead of the launch today. Comments by Catholic presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, who said that he does not "get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope", were widely reported ahead of the launch, including by  Politico The New York Times, and  The GuardianTIME said Bush's views were "hogwash".

In Australia, the  Sydney Morning Herald said that the encyclical was unlikely to escape the attention of domestic politicians: both prime minister Tony Abbott and opposition leader Bill Shorten are Catholics.


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Papal Encyclical: key statements on climate, energy and the environment

  • 18 Jun 2015, 11:01
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Pope Francis

Pope Francis | Shutterstock

Carbon Brief has read though the Papal Encyclical and here are the document's key statements on climate, energy and the environment...

On technology

20. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.

On human influence

23.  The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth's orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun's rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

24. Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet's biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world's population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.

On migration

25. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever.

On energy transition

26. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.

On cities

44. Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

On the treatment of the poor in politics

49. It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet's population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an after- thought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the com- fortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world's population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a "green" rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

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IEA: China has greatest potential to raise climate ambition

  • 17 Jun 2015, 15:30
  • Simon Evans
Yanjinhe Arch Bridge

Yanjinhe Arch Bridge | Wikimedia

The world is not on track to avoid dangerous climate change and China has the greatest potential to close the gap in climate ambition, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In a special report on energy and climate change the IEA has added up the combined impact of current climate pledges and other likely policies, including China's hotly anticipated  contribution for the post-2020 period.

Dr Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, says in an interview with Carbon Brief that these pledges are far from what would be needed to limit warming to below 2C. We've taken a look at which countries would make the biggest contribution to bridging the gap towards 2C, under the IEA's cost-neutral bridge scenario.

Climate ambition gap

The climate ambition gap is widely recognised. Last week, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres  told Carbon Brief it was "completely clear" that current pledges would be insufficient to avoid 2C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures over the course of the century - the internationally  agreed climate target.

The IEA's new assessment suggests they would instead put the world on track for 2.6C by 2100 and 3.5C after 2200. Their long-term impact may be "rather small", says Birol, but that's largely because they extend at most 15 years out to 2030.

The pledges collectively bend the world's emissions trajectory (blue line, below) away from business as usual emissions (green line) by 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2). Even in the short term, however, the gap between the pledges and what would be needed for 2C (yellow line) grows rapidly, reaching 9GtCO2 in 2030.

Emissions -paths -to -2030Emissions growth under the IEA's 'current policies' scenario, corresponding to business as usual (BAU), compared to the path with current climate pledges, the IEA's bridge scenario and a scenario consistent with 2C. Source: IEA special report on climate and energyIEA World Energy Outlook 2014. Chart by Carbon Brief.

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In-depth: Is the 1.5C global warming goal politically possible?

  • 15 Jun 2015, 14:30
  • Sophie Yeo
Aerial view of Penrhyn atoll in the Cook Islands

Penrhyn, Cook Islands | Ewan Smith

For the past five years, international climate change negotiations have been guided by the  principle that the rise in global average temperatures should be limited to "below 2C above pre-industrial levels".

Is this goal adequate? Probably not, according to a report conducted by the UN and launched at the climate change negotiations in Bonn.

Containing the views of 70 scientists gathered together in a process called the "  structured expert dialogue", the report warns that even current levels of global warming - around 0.85C - are already intolerable in some parts of the world. It says: 

"Some experts warned that current levels of warming are already causing impacts beyond the current adaptive capacity of many people, and that there would be significant residual impacts even with 1.5C of warming (e.g. for sub-Saharan farmers), emphasising that reducing the limit to 1.5C would be nonetheless preferable."

This report provides the evidence base for discussions at UN level over whether the world is being ambitious enough on long-term action to tackle climate change.

Climate talks in Bonn

While the message of the report is clear, it does not close the current chasm between climate science and policy.

At UN climate negotiations  in Bonn last week, the report and its findings were subject to intense scrutiny and discussion by diplomats from around the world.

It is these policymakers - not the scientists - who get the final say on whether the findings become the new basis for future political decisions, embedded in a new international climate deal set to be signed at the end of this year in Paris.

The views of diplomats around the world differ widely on how the findings of the report should be incorporated.

At the most hopeful end of the scale, countries want to include an official decision that "there is a need to strengthen the global goal on the basis of limiting warming to below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels".

A minority would rather ignore the report - the product of two years' work - altogether.

In any case, two weeks of discussions ended in an outcome that most had hoped to avoid: just two short sentences acknowledging that a report had been written, and that countries would continue to discuss it when they meet again in Paris.

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10 charts showing why carbon emissions stalled last year

  • 10 Jun 2015, 16:45
  • Simon Evans
Solar energy panels and wind turbines

Solar and wind power | Shutterstock

Strong growth in solar and wind was accompanied by stalling growth in fossil fuels use and energy-related emissions last year, the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015 shows.

Solar continues to exceed expectations, with output expanding by 38% during 2014. Wind also grew in double digits, though its 10% growth rate was down on the 24% average rate seen in the previous decade. Coal demand growth slumped from 3.6% over the decade to just 0.4% last year. Oil and gas also grew by less than 1%, far below historical averages - in line with predictions from the International Energy Agency.

Shifts in China's model of economic growth once again dominated the global energy story. It accounted for three-quarters of the increase in renewable electricity generation, while its coal use and emissions stalled.

Carbon Brief has produced ten charts using BP review data, showing why these shifts in energy use helped global energy-related carbon emissions stall in 2014.

Emissions and coal

The BP data confirms that previous growth in carbon dioxide emissions stalled in 2014, in line with early indications first  reported by the Financial Times in March. What's even more remarkable is that the global economy performed strongly last year, growing by 3.2%.

This suggests GDP and emissions could be decoupling. Indeed, the 2014 figure appears to be part of a trend towards slower emissions growth that has followed the post-recession bounce in 2010 (blue bars, below left).

Previous pauses or reductions in global emissions have been associated with seismic events that caused a weak economy (red line, below left), for instance the financial crisis in 2008/9 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Graph 1

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