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Is civil aviation a major CO2 problem ?

Is civil aviation a major CO2 problem ?

The main environmental effects of aviation are those of aircraft noise and aircraft emissions. The former largely affect areas at and around airports, the latter can have both local effects on air quality and global effects on climate. These problems are becoming more serious as aviation continues to grow at rates that outstrip the ability of technological and operational improvements in environmental performance to keep pace.

Is civil aviation a major CO2 problem ?

The aviation impact on climate change mainly stems from CO2, NOx and contrails and cirrus clouds. CO2 emissions are by far largest. Aviation is estimated to account for 2(-3)% of CO2 emissions and forecasts estimates that it will be around 4% in 2050.

Therefore, aviation cannot be considered as a major contributor to climate change but aviation shall also reduce its impact on climate change.

Aviation is expected grow 4-5% per year in Europe over the next years with a doubling of traffic around 2020. This means that emissions from aviation are growing despite the reductions in emissions per flight due to technological progress (where for instance fuel burn per passenger seat has been reduced by 70% over 40 years).

A comprehensive approach is therefore needed. The EU is pursuing three streams, namely 1) R&D for 'greener' technology, 2) modernised air traffic management systems and 3) market based measures.

  1. High priority is given to "the greening of air transport" in the 7th Framework Programme for RTD. The flagship will be the "Clean Sky" Joint Technology Initiative. By 2020 the aim is to reduce fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions by 50% per passenger kilometre, to reduce NOx emissions by 80% (in landing and take-off according to ICAO standards) and to reduce unburnt hydrocarbons and CO emissions by 50%. (it also aims at significant noise reductions)
  2. The Single European Sky (SES) legislation reforms the way air traffic management is organised in Europe. This requires a modernisation of the air traffic management systems in Europe. The SESAR initiative is the technological component of SES and one of the objectives is to reduce emissions by 10% per flight.
  3. The Commission has made a proposal to include aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), which is in line with ICAO's resolution (A35-5) in incorporating international aviation into existing trading schemes. The main burden will be on EU airlines. The overall impact on the industry is marginal. The timing in the EU decision making process will allow considering the outcome of ICAO's discussions at the assembly in September 2007. In 2008 the Commission will come with a proposal regarding NOx emissions.

The three streams should be followed simultaneously as they complement each other.

Other actions are taken in addition to the three main streams just mentioned. The Commission has for instance just published a call for tender for a feasibility study regarding the use of renewable energy sources, in particular biofuels, in aviation.

The EU believes that ICAO should promote an approach following all three streams simultaneously and that ICAO should pursue this pro-actively and take leadership to find a global solution as soon as possible.

Air Quality

Concern is focussed on the potential health and environmental effects of air pollution from emissions such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds and particulates. ICAO technical design standards limit emissions of NOx, carbon monoxide (CO) and unburned hydrocarbons (HFC) at source. Although there is no specific EU legislation in relation to aviation emissions, the general EU legislation establishing limit values for the pollutants of concern (mainly NOx and particulates in the case of aircraft emissions) apply at and around airports just as they do everywhere else in the EU. More on: http://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/environment/index_en.htm


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