Transport: Contracting UK carbon emissions: implications for UK aviation

Alice Bows, University of Manchester

Stabilising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at or below 550ppmv is widely believed to be necessary to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’. Achieving such levels demands industrialised nations make significant emissions cuts, whilst emerging economies adopt low-carbon pathways. This paper demonstrates the severe consequences for the UK in meeting its obligations to reduce carbon emissions under the apportionment rules informing both RCEP’s 22nd report, Energy the Changing Climate, and the 2003 Energy White, if the UK Government continues to permit the current high levels of growth within its aviation sector.

The paper reveals the enormous disparity between the UK’s position on carbon reduction and the Government’s reluctance to recognise and adequately respond to the rapidly escalating emissions from aviation. A comparison of forecasts and scenarios reflecting growing aviation emissions with a contracting UK emissions profile clearly illustrates this point. Results show that at an annual growth rate of only half of that experienced by UK aviation emissions in 2004, this sector will account for over 90% of permissible emissions in 2050 under the 550ppmv level, and consume the entire carbon budget under the 450ppmv level. The paper goes on to highlight the serious and significant implications for other sectors of the UK’s economy and addresses concerns regarding the effectiveness of including the aviation sector within the EU’s emissions trading scheme. The paper concludes that aviation growth must be curbed until sufficient steps are taken to ensure fuel efficiency gains balance growth in activity, or until there is widespread use of alternative fuels that significantly reduce the industry’s carbon emissions.

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