Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Aviation and Climate Change: Aircraft Emissions Expected to Grow...

This Government Accountability Office Report dated June 2009 (GAO-09-554) finds that aviation currently accounts for about 2 percent of human-generated global carbon dioxide emissions, the most significant greenhouse gas—and about 3 percent of the potential warming effect of global emissions that can affect the earth’s climate, including carbon dioxide. IPCC’s medium-range estimate forecasts that by 2050 the global aviation industry, including aircraft emissions, will emit about 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and about 5 percent of the potential warming effect of all global human-generated emissions.

While airlines currently rely on a range of improvements, such as fuel-efficient engines, to reduce emissions, some of which may have limited potential to generate future reductions, experts we surveyed expect a number of additional technological, operational, and alternative fuel improvements to help reduce aircraft emissions in the future. However, given expected growth of commercial aviation as forecast by IPCC, even if many of these improvements are adopted, it appears unlikely they would greatly reduce emissions by 2050.

A number of policy options to address aircraft emissions are available to governments and can be part of broader policies to address emissions from many sources including aircraft. Market-based measures can establish a price for emissions and provide incentives to airlines and consumers to reduce emissions. These measures can be preferable to other options because they would generally be more economically efficient. Such measures include a cap-and-trade program, in which government places a limit on emissions from regulated sources, provides them with allowances for emissions, and establishes a market for them to trade emissions allowances with one another, and a tax on emissions. Governments can establish emissions standards for aircraft or engines. In addition, government could increase government research and development to encourage development of low-emissions improvements.

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