Magic numbers: How to meet emissions targets without cutting emissions

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Aviation is a good example of how emissions reduction targets can be met without cutting emissions.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set itself targets which appear, on the face of it, to be extremely ambitious. Its vision is to achieve carbon-neutral growth (CNG) – a concept entirely in keeping with Green Economy. The initiative’s key goals are: a 1.5 per cent average annual improvement in fuel efficiency to 2020; carbon-neutral growth from 2020; and a 50 per cent absolute reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 compared with baseline year 2020. But with efficiency and even with biofuels (biokerosene), these goals are out of reach.

Is the IATA preparing for a decrease in air transport, then? Certainly not! So how can the reduction targets be achieved? In an attempt to answer that question, the air transport industry commissioned a study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Environmental Defense Fund, an American NGO. According to Guy Turner, BNEF’s Chief Economist and lead author of the report, the target will not be achieved primarily through technological innovation, but will depend on aviation being integrated into carbon trading. “This is the only way for the industry to offset its emissions.

Such honesty is refreshing: from the air transport industry’s perspective, the goal of carbon trading is not to reduce emissions but to offset them at an affordable price. “The analysis by Bloomberg showed there are enough unused, tradeable emissions allowances to help the aviation industry meet 30 to 50 percent of its carbon neutral growth goal through 2050 the annualized cost of carbon-neutral growth  would be [up to] 4.6 billion Dollar per year. These figures would add between 1.5 Dollar and 2 Dollar to the price of a one way fare from Paris Charles de Gaulle to New York JFK the net cost to the aviation sector of achieving CNG2020 will be trivial.”

According to the IATA, this plan “keeps aviation in the forefront of industries on managing carbon emissions”. At the very least, it is in the forefront in a surreal world in which rising emissions can be sold as reductions.


Source: Thomas Fatheuer, Lili Fuhr, Barbara Unmüßig: Inside the Green Economy – Promises and Pitfalls, Green Books, London 2016, pp. 150-151