Two loopholes in Kyoto
Two articles below look at two major items exempted from the Kyoto Protocol: air travel and deforestation. First, the Independent looks at the emission impacts of deforestation in poor countries (though emphasizing that air travel accounts for only a very small percentage of global emissions). Second, the Globe comments that despite its small share of the total, air travel is massive on a per capita basis for those who have access to it. Both require massive changes in the way we do things if emissions are to be reduced in a meaningful way. These are particularly difficult to achieve due to their highly international nature.
In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as 8 million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers is the fastest and cheapest solution to climate change. So why are global leaders turning a blind eye to this crisis?
And the Globe’s Martin Mittelstaedt has some interesting factoids about air travel:
… aircraft have been singled out as particularly worrisome by environmentalists, due, in part, to the fact that they are one of the world’s fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases, and there is no current solution for the increases in emissions they produce. No-frills airlines, and developments such as Europe’s $20 cheap-seats flights, are driving a huge increase in air travel.”The environmental movement has identified it as a key threat to climate change,” said Richard Dyer, aviation expert at Friends of the Earth in the United Kingdom, a country where concerns over air travel are acute.
The controversy stems from the fact that high-altitude emissions – from nine to 13 kilometres up for subsonic flights and higher for supersonic – cause disproportionately more warming than those at ground level, anywhere from 50 per cent to four times as much, making its global-warming role more significant than its emissions tally alone would indicate.
Part of the worry is due to contrails, the thin vapour trails from jets that crisscross the sky above many of the world’s most-travelled air routes. Contrails resemble artificial cirrus clouds, trapping heat, although there is no scientific consensus about the size of their leavening effect on global warming.
Air travel was given a little-publicized loophole in 1997 under the Kyoto Protocol, one of only two industries, the other being shipping, exempt from the greenhouse-reduction pact. When the protocol was negotiated, there was no agreement on who should shoulder responsibility for emissions due to international travel.
… A technological breakthrough for aircraft emissions isn’t on the horizon either, unlike other areas, where dramatic gains have been made. Compact fluorescent bulbs can cut electricity use for lighting by 75 per cent and hybrid cars are twice as efficient as typical automobiles, for example.Professor David Zingg, head of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, says a radical redesign of planes, making them look more like flying wings, could cut fuel use by 20 per cent, and even more if advanced aerodynamics are included. But, he said, research into these redesigns needs to start now. In the short term, he said, there is probably nothing that can be done to cut emissions in a big way other than cutting the amount of air travel.
… Modern jets are fuel efficient, rivalling the mileage per passenger of small cars. The problem is that planes fly such long distances, they quickly create high emission totals.New jets typically use about 3.5 litres of fuel to move a passenger 100 kilometres, assuming about three-quarters of the seats are occupied. This beats a fuel efficient hybrid car carrying only a driver that clocks in at about 4.1 litres per 100 km. Raise the occupancy of the car to two, and driving comes out far ahead.
For those worried about emissions, train travel may be the better bet. Last year, train operator Eurostar commissioned a study that found air travel generated 10 times more emissions than its trains on short-haul routes. London to Paris return by train caused 11 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions a traveller, compared with 122 kilograms a traveller by plane.