UK government updates aviation CO2 forecasts to 2050 and analyses policy levers to achieve reductions

UK government updates aviation CO2 forecasts to 2050 and analyses policy levers to achieve reductions | Committee on Climate Change,Philip Hammond

Fri 26 Aug 2011 – We are anti-carbon, not anti-aviation, claims the UK government in a new report published by the Department for Transport (DfT) in response to a major study released in December 2009 by the government’s climate change advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), on reducing UK aviation carbon emissions out to 2050. The target is to rein back emissions to 2005 levels by 2050 but forecasts by the DfT show that they will continue to rise steadily to 2040 and policy interventions alongside new technologies and measures will be required to stem the growth and then achieve real reductions. The DfT report updates previous long-term CO2 projections and also provides an analysis of which measures will provide the most cost-effective means of reducing emissions. The government is currently consulting with stakeholders as it forms a strategy for achieving the sustainable growth of the UK aviation industry, with a framework due for release in March 2013.


Introducing the report, the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, explains the government’s goal is to find ways of meeting carbon reduction targets while supporting economic recovery and adds that failing to tackle climate change will have long-term economic costs.


“Aviation makes a positive contribution to our lives,” he says. “It gives us the freedom to travel and enables UK businesses to compete in the global economy, but a responsible government cannot ignore its climate change impacts.”


In the report, the government says that as aviation is a global sector an international agreement is an effective way to tackle emissions and will continue to push for an ambitious global agreement to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation. However, it adds, “while the goals agreed at the 2010 ICAO Assembly are a step in the right direction towards such an agreement, they are not ambitious enough if aviation is to make a fair contribution to global efforts to reduce climate change emissions.”


Accepting that airlines already had a considerable cost incentive to reduce fuel consumption, which directly reduces emissions, the government states that aviation’s inclusion in the EU ETS from 2012 will further incentivise airlines to reduce emissions to stay in the cap, or to invest in other sectors where options for reducing carbon are easier and cheaper to deliver.


The 2009 CCC report concluded that passenger growth of 60% by 2050 could be compatible with emissions returning to 2005 levels, under assumptions about fuel efficiency, the use of sustainable biofuels and behavioural change.


The CCC report was prepared for the previous Labour government and since taking power, the coalition administration has ruled out additional runways at London’s three major airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. The new government says it will have to decide whether to review the previous 2050 aviation CO2 target in the light of the decision. By the end of 2012, the government is also required by legislation to either include international aviation emissions in the wider UK 2050 climate change target or report to Parliament on why it will not do so.


The level of UK aviation CO2 emissions in 2005 was 37.5 MtCO2, which fell back over the following five years to 34 MtCO2 in 2010. The DfT forecasts a return to steady growth over the next 20 years without further government intervention to reach 48 MtCO2 in 2030 in a central case. Improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency are expected to continue beyond 2030 and in the central and high forecasts, biofuels are expected to gain hold as kerosene and EU ETS allowance prices increase. The government also predicts a slowing in traffic growth at UK airports as a result of market maturity and capacity constraints.


The updated 2050 forecast suggests that by 2050, UK aviation emissions will lie in the range of 40-59 MtCO2, with a central forecast of 49 MtCO2, which is close to the CCC’s ‘likely’ forecast of 48 MtCO2. As the DfT report points out, that without further action emissions will therefore exceed their 2005 level.


The report then goes on to present what is described as an Aviation Marginal Abatement Cost (MAC) curve analysis that sets out a number of possible policy options, excluding fiscal measures, and their potential for reducing CO2 aviation emissions, along with an estimate of their cost-effectiveness in terms of per tonne of CO2 saved, out to 2050.


The policies modelled include:

  • Regulatory CO2 standard;
  • Support for achievement of ICAO fuel burn goals;
  • Range of levers to reduce inefficiencies in air carrier operations;
  • Early fleet retirement (incentive to accelerate fleet turnover);
  • Support for retrofitting;
  • Range of levers to reduce inefficiencies in ATM and ANSP related operations;
  • Support for biofuel demonstration plants;
  • Mandating a given level of biofuel take-up (subsidised);
  • Promotion of behavioural change;
  • Promotion of videoconferencing; and
  • Capacity constraints.


On biofuels, the analysis looks at the option of part funding demonstration plants to encourage the production of biofuels and their use by the aviation sector. It is assumed this funding would accelerate the take-up so that penetration rates would be 5% higher from 2025 than without such aid, although there is considerable uncertainty in this approach. Another policy option studied was to mandate the use of aviation biofuels, either unsubsidised or with a government subsidy on any difference in the price of jet kerosene compared to the prevailing biofuel cost plus the EU ETS allowance price.


Air traffic management (ATM) efficiency improvements are shown to be the most effective in terms of achieving a high level of CO2 savings compared to the costs involved. At the other end of the scale, forcing the early retirement of aircraft could be the least cost-effective as most airlines serving UK airports are already relatively fuel-efficient through having younger fleets than the global average. For the same reason, an international regulatory CO2 standard would also not unduly help the reduction in UK aviation emissions, although it would be beneficial on a global scale.


On capacity constraints, the MAC analysis assumes a baseline out to 2050 with existing runway capacity and an associated increase in terminal capacity and other infrastructure improvements to make maximum use of current UK runway capacity. In a response to the DfT report, environmental pressure group Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) has interpreted this as suggesting the government is now looking at banning any new runways at UK airports, a move which the AEF would welcome.


“AEF believes that no further airport expansion should take place until appropriate environmental limits have been defined by Government,” said Cait Hewitt, AEF Deputy Director. “So we very much welcome indications that the government is focusing on how to meet environmental targets within existing airport infrastructure.

“But we are concerned about how the relative costs of different options for reducing emissions have been calculated. The report suggests that in order to avoid passengers and airlines having to pay extra for the development of biofuels, for example, support would need to come from the public purse. It would represent yet another subsidy for airlines, as having access to biofuels would allow them to save money under the EU ETS.”


The government published a scoping document in March inviting public and industry response and this latest report is aimed at adding to the consultation process. The deadline for responding to the scoping document has been extended to 20 October 2011. Responses will help inform the Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation that the government is publishing for further consultation in March 2012.


In the same month, the CCC will be producing further advice on future aviation emissions in a report on international aviation and shipping that will set out recommendations to the government on the inclusion of international emissions from the two sectors in the UK’s carbon budgets to 2050.




DfT report – ‘Government Response to the CCC Report on Reducing CO2 Emissions from UK Aviation to 2050’ (pdf)

Department for Transport

Committee on Climate Change 2009 aviation report




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