Aviation is estimated to be responsible for around 3.5% of current man made global warming but, as a result of the predicted increase in air traffic in coming decades, this figure will increase. How will Governments and airlines reconcile the growth in the sector's emissions with increasingly stringent targets for global greenhouse gas ("GHG") emission reduction?
The key international driver for GHG reduction in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ("UNFCCC"). Signed by over 160 countries in 1992, the UNFCCC contains an undertaking by developed countries to limit GHG emissions. The subsequent Kyoto Protocol develops this undertaking further by placing binding quantified emissions limitation or reduction commitments on a number of developed countries (the so called "Annex I countries") to be achieved by the end of the first period (2008-2012). It is anticipated that agreement will be reached on the emissions reduction commitments for subsequent periods at some time in the future.
The Kyoto protocol recognises the need for flexible mechanisms to enable Annex I countries to reach emissions reduction and limitation targets. "Emissions trading" is one such mechanism. Participants in an emissions trading scheme are issued with allowances permitting them to emit a certain quantity of GHG. If a participant wants to emit more GHG than its allowances will permit, it is allowed to purchase allowances from a participant that is expecting to emit less GHG than its allowances will permit. What does the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol mean for the aviation sector? The answer differs for domestic and international aviation.
Domestic aviation GHG emissions are included in Annex I countries' GHG emission inventories. Thus, where domestic aviation emissions form a considerable proportion of an Annex I country's total GHG emissions, that country's programme to implement the Kyoto Protocol may include measures to limit or reduce emissions from domestic flights. So far, individual Annex I countries' programmes have not specifically targeted domestic aviation emissions for reduction, but there are signs that this could happen. In the UK, for example, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution ("RCEP") Report on the Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight, published in 2002, encouraged a shift by the UK government from short haul flights to other methods of transport, eg rail. Perhaps to gain experience of the changing times...