The UN's Proposed Airline Emissions Standards Are A Joke

The UN's Proposed Airline Emissions Standards Are a Joke

As humanity's first space colonists are getting ready to ship off to Mars in 2030, the citizens of Earth may have just implemented the first-ever carbon emissions standards for airlines. And they're weak as hell. On Monday, the United Nation's aviation agency took an unprecedented step of recommending binding limits on CO2 emissions that will slightly improve the fuel efficiency of future aircraft engines. The rules are the result of over six years of negotiations and, if they pass, they will apply to all new aircraft by the end of the 2020s. But they will barely trim carbon pollution from most commercial planes.

The rules would compel airlines to reduce their fuel consumption by 4 to 11 per cent, with proportionally greater reductions for larger planes. They will go into effect first for all new plane designs by 2020 and then for designs currently in production by 2023. By 2029, any aircraft model that isn't compliant with the new rules would be forced to retire.

This policy could encourage plane makers like Boeing to end production of some of their least efficient aircrafts, while spurring the development of more fuel efficient engines. Which is a very good first step.

But let's weigh it against what we need: a rapid decarbonisation of the global economy that brings us to net zero emissions by the mid to late 21st century. That's according to the overwhelming consensus of scientists as well as the leaders of 196 countries who met in Paris this December to strike a historic global climate accord.

The airline industry currently accounts for two per cent of global carbon emissions. While that may not sound like much, aviation is also the fastest-growing transportation sector. Analysts project that its greenhouse gas emissions will double by 2030 and triple by mid-century.

It's hard to see how rules that will improve fuel efficiency by 11 per cent tops are going to help us bring that footprint down down. In the best-case scenario, that incremental improvement translates to carbon emissions reductions of 33 per cent. Many experts say this probably won't happen, though.

"The standard as proposed is not going to make a dent in the emissions growth curve of airlines," environmental lawyer Verda Pardee told the New York Times. "It's just unfair for an industry as large as the airline industry not to be called to account on their contribution to climate change."

The auto industry, for its part, is facing much tougher efficiency standards in the United States -- a doubling of its fuel economy to 23km/L by 2025. What's more, a recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation finds that the fuel efficiency gap between the most and least efficient airlines is 51 per cent. That means there are across-the-board standards that could be implemented today, with existing technology, to dramatically drive down the carbon footprint of the most polluting airlines.

A few other futuristic ideas that could help reduce the airline industry's carbon footprint are also being tested, things like biofuels and electric engines. These technologies may be years out from commercial application, but you know what could encourage investment? An oil tax. Hell, it's a lot better than putting R&D dollars into figuring out how to turn carbon-guzzling planes into human cattle cars.

Flying has become a contest to see who can build the most glorious airborne RVs without any measurable reform. It's 2016. We're building reusable rockets and self-driving cars. We can do better than this.

Image via Jeff Kubina / Flickr



    Why is this important? Airlines are already have incentives to reduce fuel use because it's by far their biggest cost.

    Reducing carbon output = burning less fuel = carrying less weight. You can make engines more efficient but that is hard and there is an obvious limit to it. Carbon reductions in cars have just been done by gaming the testing procedures, which is why there are so many turbo cars these days.

    As Favro said, Aircraft Manufacturers have always had far greater incentives to lower their fuel costs than just about any other industry for a multitude of reasons which has meant they've always been at the forefront of efficient operation. There is only so much they can really do, and considering their incredibly tiny total contribution it doesn't make much of a difference ANYWAY.

    Maddie Stone, might I suggest that you do some ACTUAL research next time instead of delivering an article like this. Get some actual information from people who design these engines and they'll likely tell you that this is about the best they can honestly do.

    In the Airline Industry the real savings are coming from more than just the Engines and their technology, it comes from being able to increase the number of people that can put on an Aircraft, thusly decreasing the Fuel per Seat Per Nm which is the best metric to use when considering an Airliners efficiency. It also comes from increasing the efficiency of their flight paths by adopting new technology that allows Air Traffic Control to shorten the tracks that Aircraft travel on. Adoption of newer, lighter and stronger materials for building Aircraft means they burn less fuel to do the same thing which is what the newest generation are doing by embracing the use of far more Carbon in their designs. There is new technology emerging that will allow Aircraft on the ground to be moved by electric motors instead of using their Engines, this allows for MASSIVE savings as Aircraft often keep an APU powered up on the ground which continues to burn Hundreds of Kilos of fuel per hour and not to mention the running of their main engines when simply taxiing around, something that can also be reduced with new technology mentioned earlier being utilised by ATC. On top of that better designed aircraft utilising the latest in innovation, simple items like equipping aircraft with Wingtip Fins and better designed wings.

    There is so much more to Aircraft Efficiency than just simply the Engines that drive them, of course if Maddie Stone had done any kind of ACTUAL research and talked to anyone in the Industry at all she would have been told all this and saved such a ridiculous article from being put out there and further peddling the crap coming from some Environmental Lawyer who is biased.

      The argument is obviously that additional disincentives are warranted because excessive environmental harm is being done despite the efficiency incentive implict in fuel cost.

      Not sure why you mentioned APUs, the facts harm your argument:
      A 737 APU uses ~80kg per hour.
      A cruising 737 uses ~2500kg per hour.

      A 747 APU uses ~300kg per hour
      A cruising 747 uses ~11500kg per hour.

        There are already massive incentives for them to reduce the fuel burn as much as is humanly possible, it's the entire point of new Aircraft to make them more efficient, if you produce a less efficient Aircraft then why on earth would the Airlines want to purchase it? Efficiency comes from many factors on the Aircraft as I already mentioned, Engine Fuel Burn really isn't the major part of it, number of passengers, amount of cargo carried, speed it travels at, altitudes it can fly at, design of the aircraft itself etc....etc....etc....

        A 737 is closer to 100kg per hour is what I've been told for the APU, A320 is 130kg/hr, but this of course depends highly on the model and the load it is actually under, so it is a moot point, fact is that the APUs do use hundreds of kg/hr which is exactly what I said, comparing the the Cruise burn of it's Main Engines to the Burn of the APU is just silly really, as I even mentioned it is only a factor, a single factor amongst many that come together to describe the efficiency of a Jet Aircraft.

        I didn't explain myself too properly with regards to the APU perhaps though, I'm talking about creating technology that means the APUs can burn less as well, there are currently Programs underway that will use Fuel Cells on Aircraft on the ground to reduce the amount of power required by the APU, recovery of their braking power is coming in as well to help with this, EasyJet are currently working with Cranfield University to develop the system and I believe it was Airbus who were testing Electric Motors for their Wheels which would mean the Main engines could be started later as they wouldn't be required for taxiing, once again reducing the amount of fuel.

        Once again though, with Aircraft accounting for such a massively small amount of Global Carbon Emissions, I didn't even go into the Programs currently underway to start using BioMass and other similar additives with Jet A1 fuel which will also further reduce their emissions.

        Oh, let's not forget there are pushes for all electric aircraft to come out which will start to move into the General Aviation sector within probably the next decade as there are already examples that are being produced right now, just waiting for the Regulations to catch up to them which they are rapidly doing, this coupled with the worlds current GA Fleets really pushing against their Age Limitations (Being an average of about 40 years old now!) will mean they need to be replaced.

    "comparing the the Cruise burn of it's Main Engines to the Burn of the APU is just silly"

    That's why it is fascinating that you referred to the APU as a contributor to 'MASSIVE' savings.

    Your argument seems to amount to 'Maddie is wrong because it's complicated.'
    But this isn't very convincing when the complications you cite have trivial impact.

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