Growth in flights will wreck Climate change targets, new research shows

1 June 2005

New research published today (Wednesday 1 June 2005) by Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and carried out by the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, shows that unless the EU and the UK Government takes action to reduce the growth in aviation emissions the industry's emissions will wipe out all the savings that other sectors of the economy could make. 

The research also shows that carbon reduction targets will be almost impossible to meet if aviation emissions continue to grow at the rates analysed by the Tyndall Centre [1]. 

Tyndall, the UK's leading independent climate change research body, concludes that if aviation growth continues, it could take up the entire emissions budget for all sectors of the EU economy by 2040 and all sectors of the UK economy by 2037, if we are to keep within safe limits [2]. This would mean that schools, hospitals, commerce, houses and industry would not be able to release any emissions if the UK and the EU are to stay within environmental limits. Friends of the Earth described such a scenario as "absurd, unjust and unachievable".

The research looked at growth trends in the aviation industry and calculated that emissions from the sector would rise rapidly between now and 2050, assuming these trends continued. It also took account of the way in which air transport markets mature and assumed that significant improvements in fuel efficiencies would be achieved. 

The report concludes that there will be: "severe consequences for both the UK and the EU in terms of meeting their obligations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. if European governments continue to permit, or indeed promote, historically high levels of aviation growth."

Friends of the Earth believes that if the EU allows the aviation sector to grow according to its forecasts, it will find it politically impossible to achieve the overall cut in CO2 emissions needed. Friends of the Earth is calling for the EU to introduce the economic measures and sector targets to achieve stabilisation of CO2 at 450ppm by 2050. 

Friends of the Earth's Aviation Campaigner Richard Dyer said: "The biggest question this generation faces is how we tackle climate change. The EU must introduce the economic measures necessary to curb aviation emissions. This report paints a devastating picture of the future impact of uncontrolled aviation growth for the environment. Decision makers must face up to the fact that tackling climate change means tackling the demand for aviation."

Climate change is the most pressing environmental issue facing humanity. The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair recently described it as "a challenge so far reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence" [3].

Aviation is a rapidly growing industry and the fastest growing source of climate changing emissions. The European Commission is currently investigating the merits of bringing intra-EU aviation into the existing EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) its key policy to reduce climate emissions from the sector. This is one option that the EU is considering, but it is also discussing taxes and emissions charges. The Commission is due to communicate its views on the policy options in the summer of 2005. Friends of the Earth believes that member states should remove remaining VAT and kerosene tax exemptions on domestic flights and by pressing for effective EU measures starting with an emissions charge.

A summary of the Tyndall report is available at:
The full report is available at:

[1] Emissions from international aviation are not included in the current regime to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as there is no international agreement on allocating their responsibility to nation states. Tyndall have assumed that states would accept responsibility for 50% of all international arrivals and departures, an assumption also used e.g. by the UK Department for Transport in its technical paper 'Aviation and Global Warming - Jan 2004' see

[2] This calculation assumes that the EU adopted a 450ppmv 2050 carbon concentration target. The report found this to be a safer target that would be compatible with the 1996 European Council target to limit temperature rise from climate change to 20 C.

The research concludes that if aviation growth continues, it could take up the entire emissions budget for all sectors of the EU economy by 2040 based on an atmospheric stabilisation target of greenhouse gas concentrations of 450 parts per million. Moreover, between 2010 and 2020, EU aviation emissions could already be equivalent to their respective economy-wide 2050 targets. This means that from 2020 onwards no sector would be able to grow its emissions (unless compensated outside of the EU system).

Tyndall looked at current growth trends for aviation and then compared this emissions growth with the declining profiles of total emissions under a contraction and convergence climate policy. They also looked at the implications of this growth for other sectors of the economy and for the EU emissions trading system (ETS). Contraction and convergence (C&C) is a policy increasingly recommended for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change it would require industrialised nations to make substantial cuts in their emissions, while permitting some industrialising countries to increase theirs within the equal level per capita objective. Friends of the Earth believes that Contraction and Convergence under-estimates the cuts needed in developed countries because it fails to take into account responsibilities for historic emissions and it also underestimates the development needs of poor nations.

[3] Tony Blair speech on climate change 14/9/2004

[4] See Tyndall report summary for full details of Friends of the Earth's policy demands at:

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