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Non-CO2 related climate effects from flight: Can’t we just walk quietly through the doors?

Non-CO2 Related Climate Effects From Flight: Can’t We Just Walk Quietly Through The Doors?

There was a strong reluctance to relate to the elephant in the room when the travel lobby association on Thursday 21.4. held a webinar on how travelers in the future will be better able to make active choices about their journey from a climate conscious perspective.

Kai Bauer, Principal Advisor Environment & Sustainability at the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) should know all about this, as EASA on 24.11. had published a report on this, but Kai Bauer kept a completely low profile during this part of the webinar.

EASA’s report was late 2020 accompanied by a cover letter from the European Commission and therefore it was perfect that Magnus Gislev, Team leader sustainable air travel in DG MOVE, European Commission was also present at the webinar. However, Magnus Gislev was also very hesitant, and would rather not address the problem of the flight’s non-CO2 related climate effects.

On the other hand, it was to be expected that the representatives of the aviation industry would not take in their mouths that aviation contributes to more global warming by non-CO2-related effects than by CO2 alone. They were Sam Edwards, Head of Sustainability Products (Green label project leader) at Skyscanner (a large on-line sales portal) and Anders Fagernæs, VP Sustainability at Norwegian.

Jo Dardenne, Aviation Manager at Transport & Environment (T&E), was the only one to point out the aviation’s special problems with non-CO2 related heating. T&E had also been behind the press coverage in November (see the article’s photo). Jo also emphasized that greenwashing is an imminent danger to the industry and that the EU must react so that actions become beneficial to the climate.

The YouTube recording of the webinar, starting a the non-CO2 question

>> Se the agenda for the webinar here

If agriculture could avoid talking about methane and nitrous oxide emissions, then they would probably like it. For methane and nitrous oxide is for agriculture, what the non-CO2 related effects in the atmosphere are for the aviation sector. Agriculture, however, has a similar “kispus” history as aviation: agriculture emits large amounts of CO2 via release from the soil (LULUCF), which is not regulated. As a rule of thumb, agriculture’s share of resp. methane, nitrous oxide and LULUCF for 10-13% of Denmark’s total greenhouse gas emissions. But despite agriculture’s relatively large emissions of CO2 from the soil, these emissions have largely escaped regulation and public discussion, just as is happening with the extra climate effect of aviation.

Too complicated to talk about

There was no speaker at the webinar who directly said that science is wrong. But while future information must be provided about the aircraft’s technical specifications, the incorporation of so-called green fuels and even climate choices when catering on board the aircraft, it seemed to the participants that it was too complicated to calculate the non-CO2 related effects. It should then just be for particularly mathematically interested travelers who could search for this information somewhere.

It is also complicated in the details. The non-CO2 related effects are about where the planes fly in the airspace and when in the day. But the underlying dynamics are now so well known that it is possible to tax and regulate behavior accordingly, if one so desires politically. It is no more complicated than that a factor could be added depending on the length of the flight. It would be from a factor of 1.5 to 4.5 according to this study from 2019, which is part of the “package” of scientific reports requested by the European Commission. Least on the short flights where the plane does not reach high, and most on the long flights where the plane is up in the atmosphere where the exhaust from the engines matters most.

The climate does not care if it is difficult

The non-CO2 related effects are not only technically difficult, but the long-term effects are also different (and shorter-lived) than with pure CO2. It’s like methane and nitrous oxide in agriculture. But because it is difficult and different, it does not change the effects on the climate. Now we know that the climate is burdened extra by flight and it does not require difficult calculations to conclude that rapid reductions have extra value, while the hesitation risks pushing the climate beyond the much talked about tipping points.

Can modified jet fuels and air traffic control solve the problem?

Yes, no doubt that various measures can benefit the climate. And there is no need to wait another eight years, as the EU Commission points out. If the air traffic control forces the planes away from particularly sensitive areas in the airspace (depending on the weather conditions), it will help a lot. But it will bother the industry and otherwise there are no international sanction options.

Additives to jet fuel and sulfur in the fuel make the planes soot more, and this results in more of the unfortunate flight streaks. It may be reduced, but the substances are there for a reason, so it must be legislated!

The question is whether new synthetic liquid fuels sometime in the future, or whether a soon small addition of bio-based fuels will remedy the problem? Hardly to a large extent, because basically it is still a matter of burning hydrocarbons up in a sensitive atmosphere.

Is this a brotherhood of silence?

The meeting calls for the idea that those who have to guard the industry on behalf of the climate and consumers are all too “understanding” and “friendly” towards the industry. How can managers for environmental and climate efforts get so massively on their hands? It is an obvious topic for investigative journalism in Europe.

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