Airbus behind EU’s plan for weak aircraft CO2 standard

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is undermining attempts to agree an environmentally effective fuel efficiency standard that would apply to new planes worldwide. The warning, from a group of 17 European environmental NGOs, came after it emerged that the EU is pushing for a significantly less ambitious carbon emissions standard for airplanes than the US.

The standard, which would be the first of its kind for the aviation sector, would mandate fuel efficiency improvements – and therefore cuts in CO2 emissions per passenger per km travelled – for all new models and existing aircraft put into production after 2020.

Aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions were not explicitly covered by December's Paris climate agreement which called for reductions to limit global warming at 1.5°C or 2°C.

Under two proposals filed with the UN’s aviation body ICAO, the gap between Europe’s position and America’s is greater than the annual emissions of most medium-sized European countries, the Guardian reported. ‘The US proposal is definitely more ambitious,’ Joris Melkert, an aerospace engineer and senior academic at Delft University in the Netherlands, told the newspaper. ‘It would save more emissions, and the difference is quite considerable.’

But aviation giant Airbus is undermining the EU’s ambition by arguing it cannot accept a robust efficiency standard as it would damage its business, the NGOs told the company’s CEO in a letter.

Airbus and Boeing aircraft combined account for over 90% of global aviation emissions, but the European company’s argument against more ambition suggests it may not be able to compete with its rival on fuel efficiency.

Following Airbus lobbying, the EU will now enter talks on the fuel efficiency standard on such a weak level of ambition that Europe may be left with the blame if the result is an environmentally ineffective greenwash or if no agreement at all is reached when ICAO meets in February.

‘European industry can only benefit from an ambitious aviation fuel efficiency standard which would stimulate billions worth of investment in research and development and create thousands of new jobs,’ the NGOs, which include T&E, told Airbus boss Fabrice Brégier. ‘The consequence of a weak standard is hundreds of megatonnes of avoidable greenhouse gas emissions being emitted and airlines burning far more fuel than would have been necessary.’

ICAO has been developing a CO2 standard for new aircraft types since 2010 with the aim of reducing emissions from new aircraft beyond what would have happened under business as usual. It is also working on a market-based mechanism – to be agreed by September – to curb the sector’s growing climate impact.

Aviation accounts for an estimated 5% of global warming and its annual CO2 emissions are equal to those of Germany. Traffic is growing 5-6% a year and ICAO predicts global aviation emissions will likely triple by 2050 unless action is taken.