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February 21, 2012

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February 21, 2012

27 countries are meeting today to try and stop Europe doing something about climate change

February 21, 2012
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Today there’s one of those meetings that bears out the conspiracy theorists. 27 countries, including India, China, Russia and the USA, are pollutionmeeting in Moscow to discuss how to block new European climate change regulation to charge airlines for their carbon emissions on flights into and out of Europe. China has reportedly ‘banned’ its airlines from participating in the scheme.

According to the Economist

“As an effort to make airlines pay for their pollution, the EU’s action is overdue. In global terms, their emissions are modest, about 3% of the total. Yet they are rising fast: between 2005 and 2010 they grew by 11.2%. Meanwhile the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which was charged with taking steps to mitigate them, has done nothing of the sort. In 2004 it ruled out negotiating a global deal to curb the emissions of all airlines, and instead recommended that countries include their airlines in whatever national mitigation scheme they had in place. In 2010 it changed its mind, announcing that it would, after all, initiate a “framework”—whatever that might be—for a global deal to address airline emissions.

Unconvinced, the EU decided to push ahead with its plan to make all flights into the EU subject to the emissions-trading scheme (ETS). This is now enshrined in European law. The only ways foreign governments could extricate their airlines from it would be to stop them flying into the EU, or make them subject to an equivalent mitigation regime of their own.”

I’m not clear how much, if any, of the money raised will go on funding the EU’s promises on climate change adaptation (readers please help out), but in any case the proposal is a highly progressive form of taxation – air travel remains the preserve of the rich, as the EU sets out in a background paper:

‘While the impacts of climate change tend to create most difficulties for people in poorer regions of the world, increased ticket prices resulting from the EU ETS will be predominantly borne by the wealthier segments of the population both within the EU and globally. Despite the advent of low-cost services, air transport is still very much the preserve of the well off at both the regional and global level. The argument that higher ticket prices will strike poorer people hardest is therefore not credible – the facts indicate that the opposite would be the case.’

ETS aircraft emissionsThe main objection to the EU’s policy is that it applies to air-miles clocked up outside European airspace. But the vast majority of emissions captured by the EU ETS scope are from EU and US operators (See chart).  By implication, if India and others genuinely want developed countries to act to cut GHG emissions it would seem against their own interest to try to block the EU ETS, because obviously the EU would never apply it just to its own carriers – so if they were to be successful they’d also prevent us doing something about the large majority of emissions from EU/US carriers.

So far most of the outrage has been circulating in private emails rather than public. This is a typical (anonymised) example:

‘Climate finance from aviation is one of the few realistic ways to “tax the rich” to protect the poor. What could be more worth fighting for? Where is the climate justice movement in this fight raising its voice? Because it is so busy preparing the next resolution against the unwillingness of the North to act on climate change?

If this coalition succeeds in bringing the EU to back down (which I hope it won’t), it will be a major blow to international equity and climate justice. Isn’t it high time to break the silence and speak out? What the hell are Cuba or Burkina Faso doing on the list of countries fighting against the aviation ETS – defending the right of their citizens to their annual holiday flight? And as to Egypt: What would the fellah in the Nile delta prefer – the right to untaxed international flights, or rather some help to build seawalls against the rapidly rising sea level?’

If the naysayers in Moscow aren’t persuaded on climate change, they may want to think a bit harder about public health. Back to the Economist:

‘Besides cooking the climate, aviation also causes local pollution, which poor countries suffer more grievously than rich ones. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge University have estimated the impact on the ground of emissions from aircraft flying at cruise altitude (about 35,000 feet), a problem typically ignored by regulations. They have shown that emissions of nitrous oxides (NOX) and sulphur oxides (SOX) combine with gases already in the atmosphere to create very fine particles that are especially dangerous to human health. Such pollution is a huge problem in China. The researchers found that though most aviation emissions currently occur over North America and Europe, about 3,500 of the 8,000 resultant premature deaths per year happen in China and India…..With air travel in China booming, the worry is that this underreported public-health problem will also boom.”

Estimated cost per passenger? Paris to Beijing, somewhere between an extra €1.50 and €7.52.

besides cooking the climate, aviation also causes local pollution, which poor countries suffer more grievously than rich ones. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge University have estimated the impact on the ground of emissions from aircraft flying at cruise altitude (about 35,000 feet), a problem typically ignored by regulations. They have shown that emissions of nitrous oxides (NOX) and sulphur oxides (SOX) combine with gases already in the atmosphere to create very fine particles that are especially dangerous to human health. Such pollution is a huge problem in China (see article).
The researchers found that though most aviation emissions currently occur over North America and Europe, about 3,500 of the 8,000 resultant premature deaths per year happen in China and India. Many variables explain this, but the most important is that farming in these heavily populated countries (unlike that in America) emits huge amounts of ammonia. This interacts with the NOX and SOX to produce the dangerously small particulate pollution that leads to premature deaths. With air travel in China booming, the worry is that this underreported public-health problem will also boom.

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