This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a leading climate science body, has published a report on the scientific evidence relating to 1.5C° global warming. The report shows that it is still possible to limit warming to 1.5C° and avoid dangerous climate change. Reaching this goal, however, would require rapid and large-scale climate action, including in the aviation and shipping sectors.
Planes and ships are eating up our carbon budget
A key figure of the new IPCC report is the remaining carbon budget. Put simply, this is the total amount of CO2e that can still be emitted to have a two-in-three (66%) chance of keeping global warming below 1.5C°. This is estimated by the IPCC to be around 550 Gt. At current emission levels of around 49 Gt of CO2e per year, it would take us only 11 years to exhaust our budget. Aviation and shipping are likely to use up a large share of it. Based on a report by Oeko-institut, aviation and shipping emissions could consume 17% of this remaining budget by 2050, not taking into account non-CO2 effects from aviation which are likely to increase this number significantly.
The IPCC publication appears at a time when countries are moving closer to finalizing the rules of the aviation sector’s new carbon market, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Aviation is a crucial sector for the future of our planet, with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) predicting that emissions from aviation could increase by 300% in 2050 compared to 2005. Urgent action is therefore needed.
How is the aviation sector dealing with its emissions problem?
The aviation sector’s offsetting scheme, to compensate emissions from aviation above 2020 levels, will be vastly insufficient to put the sector on a pathway in line with 1.5C warming. Even if robust rules were agreed to select carbon credits of high quality, offsetting the growth in aviation emissions is not sufficient. Regions and countries should therefore adopt policies that actually reduce emissions from flying, rather than relying on a scheme that allows pollution to grow using controversial offsets.
The IPCC report clearly shows that, although it is not too late, we are running out of time to avoid catastrophic climate change, and fast. We urgently need to adopt measures so that all sectors, including aviation and shipping, decarbonize in the near future. While pollution pricing policies have a role to play in this, they must be set up with strong rules to guarantee their effectiveness, and they cannot be used as a substitute to other domestic climate policies to reduce in-sector emissions.