Following the recent COP26 talks in Glasgow, a government policy paper has been published concering aviation and climate change. After obviously spending a great deal of time coming up with the snappy title 'COP 26 declaration: International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition', 23 countries (including the UK) managed to agree on the next steps for combating the substantial effects the aviation industry has on climate change. However, I am not convinced at all that this agreement really says anything we didn't already know, nor does it seem to point out any specifics of precisely what the governments will do to tackle this constantly growing issue.
Let us take, for example, commitment number 6 of the report, which states that all signatory states will be:
"Preparing up-to-date state action plans detailing ambitious and concrete national action to reduce aviation emissions and submitting these plans to ICAO well in advance of the 41st ICAO Assembly, where such plans have not already been updated in line with ICAO Assembly Resolution A40-18, paragraph 11."
Now, I don't know how much you know about the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), but this doesn't seem to be much of a commitment at all. Sure, to a 'layperson' it may sound like a complex and time consuming endeavour, but in reality they don't have to do that much here. The 41st Assembly will likely take place in September 2022, so they have almost a year to get this ready. Not only that, but the plans they have to prepare only have to meet the standards as written in para 11 of Resolution A40/18. This paragraph, in very simple terms, provides that signatory nations must continue to play an important part in providing assistance and furthering partnerships with ICAO member states and other international organisations, whilst helping to facilitate access to financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building. To me, that brief is pretty simple and easy to achieve, at least it ought to be if you have any form of altruism within your State's government.
We then find a couple of pledges talking about increasing the capabilities and use of CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) and SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel). For a start, CORSIA does not work as well as airlines would like to lead you to believe, nor is it really solving the problem of emissions and climate change, instead trying to delay climate change in (what is, in my view at least) a slimy fashion. If you aren't aware, CORSIA is a scheme which encourages polluters to 'trade' their emissions for 'carbon credits', for example by offsetting their emissions by planting trees as part of a 'forrest offset'. The problems with this are multi-faceted, but include the obvious lack of solving the root problem, the fact that things like forrest offsets aren't particularly effective (largely due to wildfires, droughts etc., as well as the fact that it is very difficult to measure the sequestration effects due to differing geopolitical conditions), and that even as emissions trading goes, it's far from stringent (take the EU Emissions Trading Scheme as a comparison, for example). I also find the inclusion of SAF to be somewhat confusing. Yes, I am aware that SAF usage and production has increased vastly in recent years and that Rolls Royce's Trent and Pearl engines will be able to run entirely on SAF within the next few years, however we still don't know if they work nearly as well as we hope, nor do we know what disadvantages exist. This is bolstered by the FAA, who only one day after the COP26 agreement, published a report which included the following points:
“There is uncertainty on what the actual life-cycle emissions reductions from these fuels will be.......there are no mandatory governmental standards for calculating the environmental benefits or dis-benefits of SAF”. Followed by an estimation of net-emissions reduction being "at least 50%" by using SAF.
Another problem, as kindly highlighted by the FAA, is that the US need the net-emissions to be reduced by 100% by using SAF, if they are to meet their 2050 target for net-zero. At the rate mentioned in their report, the emissions levels will remain at 2020 levels, which is much too high and will lead to catastrophic climate change. The same then can be said for the other nations employing a similar tactic (us in the UK being a prime example after boasting that we will be the first nation to switch completely to SAF, despite not really knowing the effects and abilities of it yet).
Lastly, let us look at points 5 and 8, which are as much of a waste of ink and paper (how ironic), and as obvious and meaningless, as each other. The two points state the following:
5. Promoting the development and deployment, through international and national measures, of innovative new low- and zero-carbon aircraft technologies that can reduce aviation CO2 emissions.
8. Convening periodically at both ministerial and official levels with a view to advancing and reviewing progress on the above commitments.
Unless I'm mistaken, isn't it the case that most developments in this field by companies like Rolls-Royce and Verticle Aerospace are in-house, with the government only being involved when it comes to box-ticking? How exactly, then, do they propose to promote these developments? Especially at a time such as this, with national debt rocketing up, it doesn't seem that there's much money for the government to throw around as an incentive so a little more context and explanation certainly is needed. Pledge 8 really doesn't add anything either. We already have many meetings for convening, whether thats through the likes of COP, ICAO, ECSL or otherwise, and the result is normally the same with one or two countries being very stubborn (and 'those' countries, which like Voldermort shall not be named for some reason, ruining the effort of everyone else with claims of 'consequences' and 'war' if any State dares to try and get involved in their emission affairs), subequently leading to nothing substantial being agreed on. For example, we've had aircraft for almost 120 years and still haven't been able to agree where airspace ends, we've had airliners capable of flying with SAF for 13 years (Richard Branson and his airline Virgin Atlantic were the first to get a jet engine to run on SAF in 2008) and haven't made many advancements since as we decided to sit on the idea for too long, and we've had electric aircraft for 48 years (Fred Militky and Heino Brditschka did it first in October 1973) but still don't have any viable options for the masses. So, I ask with a fragment of exasperation, do we really think these 'commitments' will lead to any real change?