Airplane CO2 standard too weak, MEPs tell industry

A global fuel efficiency standard recommended by world governments for new aircraft is too weak, MEPs have told aviation industry representatives. The UN aviation body ICAO agreed earlier this month that all certified new aircraft type designs would have to start complying with the new standard from 2020 while all new and derivative versions of existing in-production aircraft would have to comply with a lower stringency from 2028.

Aviation is currently responsible for an estimated 5% of global warming and, given the projected growth by 2050, the new fuel efficiency standard would be environmentally ineffective, MEPs told a policy debate the the European Parliament. ‘Of course, I think we all agree it is a step in the right direction, but we also have to consider it’s not overly ambitious – certainly not for a sector that’s en route for a tenfold increase of its relative emissions in the upcoming decades,’ said centre-right MEP Ivo Belet.

Environmental groups say the new standard is unlikely to have any effect on the climate, having been weakened in response to commercial pressures. If ratified, the fuel efficiency standard would merely signal business as usual for the Airbus-Boeing duopoly until at least 2028, T&E said, some 20 years after work on the standard began.

Bill Hemmings, aviation director at T&E, commented: ‘Reducing aviation emissions is critical to the industry’s environmental sustainability, but the commercial interests of industry and manufacturers like Airbus have been put way before environmental considerations. The outcome also reflects poorly on the European experts and their governments just weeks after the Paris climate deal agreed on the urgent need for greater ambition.’

T&E said that market forces alone would have required a better fuel performance than the standard specifies by the time the first new aircraft types fly in 2024. Meanwhile, new in-production aircraft already flying, such as the A320neo (pictured) and Boeing 737 Max, are already two levels more fuel efficient than what the standard will require in 2028.

It is very unlikely that the next generation of new aircraft types will have any problems complying with the standard’s weak ambition, Bill Hemmings explained in an article for Climate Home. ‘Current ‘new’ large in-production aircraft types like the Airbus A320neo and the Boeing B737-8MAX, with first deliveries between 2014 and 2020, already pass stringency levels 8 and 9 and some even 10,’ he wrote.

T&E said the decision only serves to put further pressure on ICAO to agree a credible market-based measure later this year and on European states to ensure that aviation makes a fair contribution to Europe’s 2030 climate goals.

The standard could have had an impact, T&E added, but during its six years of development industry controlled all the data, piled on conservative assumptions swamping the small margins at play, and ICAO member ‘experts’ decided that any standard should not require better technology than that already flying in 2016. This was followed by commercial lobbying.

The ICAO Council is expected to confirm the standard at a forthcoming meeting.