Friday, August 03, 2012

Obama's tightrope on European airline emissions

Obama and the Senate Democrats are playing dangerous games, hopefully with care, with Europe's attempt to reduce carbon emissions from airlines.  The EU is applying cap-and-trade not just to internal flights but also flights to and from Europe.  For that, the US lines up with China and Russia saying the Europeans shouldn't care about emissions that start outside of their own borders.

This is important even if you don't like cap and trade and prefer a carbon tax.  How one area that's controlling its emissions interacts with other areas that aren't has to be resolved or the system will break down.  The key method is some kind of carbon emission tariff, and the EU system for airlines parallels that. A legitimate complaint could be made that the EU is keeping all the money for the carbon allocation emissions - it should instead divide up the money for carbon reductions with the outside countries.

I'm going to be optimistic that Obama hopes to use the crisis to push for a global framework on controlling airline emissions.  Using a crisis to achieve a resolution better than the status quo ante is a standard technique, but a risky one. A global airline emission framework has been in the works, for fourteen years.  The EU has every reason not to wait, but hopefully their push forward can move the rest of the world forward.

Airline emissions also aren't trivial and likely to increase substantially.  Anyone who's calculated their own carbon footprint can see that months of efforts to control emissions get ruined by a single cross-country flight.

Electricity from renewable energy can transform ground transport but can't do the same in the air.  Jet fuel from biofuels is barely getting started, so this is a serious problem.  Let's hope we don't stumble.

18 comments:

Sou said...

It would be very beneficial to have an international agreement. IIRC there was speculation that China would go tit for tat with the EU system, which can only be good (even if the reasons were to 'get back at them').

Air travel is unlikely to diminish greatly in the short term (years) unless there is a major recession for some reason (which could be climate). A global framework/agreement that encourages reduction of carbon pollution or at the very least offsetting it has great merit.

Russell said...

One man's tightrope is another's noose- this is a vile and impudent bit of diplomatic whiggery, for allowing every unrepresentative soverignty to tax the use of the commons, though a mild species of tyranny is one none the less.

Should Martinique or Statia be allowed to dictate landing fees in the USVI?

Brian said...

Not sure I understand your point, Russell. Airline emissions are despoiling the climate commons, and the question is what to do about emissions on international flights. The EU's something is a whole lot better than the rest of the world's nothing, although the EU shouldn't latch on to all the money from that something.

Anonymous said...

Would the scientific community, with all possible self-congratulatory PR flourish, consider discontinuation of its system of world wide conferences that require much airline flight?

Just as countries will more likely follow the actions, rather than the words, of the world's leading polluter (US), so too the reputation of climate science, and science in general, might benefit from obvious demonstration of the type of "institutional" behavior its "truth" implies is necessary.

John Puma

John said...

Would the scientific community, with all possible self-congratulatory PR flourish, consider discontinuation of its system of world-wide conferences that require much airline flight?

Just as countries will more likely follow the actions, rather than the words, of the world's leading polluter (US), so too the reputation of climate science, and science in general, might benefit from obvious demonstration of the type of "institutional" behavior its "truth" implies is necessary.

John Puma

Sou said...

John Puma - is that your way of saying 'stop doing science'?

Martin Vermeer said...

Russell, if the European Union would try to tax flights between Martinique and Statia, I would kind of see your point

John said...

To Sou:

Is science DONE at conferences?

John Puma

david lewis said...

Kevin Anderson's 04 April 2012 Nature column "The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets" mentioned a few ideas organizers of what John calls the "system of world-wide conferences that require much airline flight" could implement to reduce conference climate impact.

Anderson, former Director of the Tyndall Centre now Deputy Director actually took a train from the UK to a climate conference in China http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Stories/Podcasts/Professor-Kevin-Anderson/ Those unfamiliar with his views can hear him lecture on and on using the video link at that webpage.

Basically, Anderson feels climate scientists have stood by and allowed the debate about what can be done degenerate into the preposterous, eg McKibben's latest paper in Rolling Stone where he claims "most people would come out ahead" as his proposed carbon tax solves the climate problem. The Anderson view is civilization is committed to beyond 4 degrees now and is unlikely to survive it, hence what is all this BS resistance people come up with like answering suggestions that something be done about the enormous carbon feetprints of climate scientists with what, stop science?

Obviously, he's what has to be stopped.

Russell said...

Martin , since Martinique is a French metropole, and Statia as much a legal part of the Netherlands as Zeeland, my point is in pretty plain sight- The Eurocracy is trying to seize fiscal control of air space in the Antilles.

As grounds for a démarche, it sure beats Jenkins Ear.

Sou said...

If everyone around the world stopped travelling to work, if there was no longer any opportunity for large groups of people to discuss matters face to face, and scientists and others stopped doing any field work - then the world would stop and climate catastrophe would be averted. Humans would die quickly (no food, no economy, civil war, disease etc) but the earth would survive, and quite possibly many more species would survive.

I don't relish that option nor do I think it's likely to happen in the short to medium term. I'm all in favour of limiting travel in the meantime. Of being aware of the cost of travel in ecological terms. It's counterproductive to stop it. (If we don't get a move on and stop carbon pollution it may be forced on us eventually.)

IMO the steps being taken to develop low and preferably carbon neutral propulsion is a better way forward. There's nothing quite like talking face to face to generate ideas, motivation and new projects (often global alliances).

Anonymous said...

Well color me stoopid, that is why they call me "Hey Stoopid".

Actually, seeing that the writing is already on the wall, 2020, will be an interesting year, for all US based owned and operated airlines.

One, does not have to be a genius, in order to figure out why it will be so and the oil companies are all quite up front about it, as well too.

It, is very sad, the majority of the US airline executives, are actually killing their own goose, driven by their own incompetence and greed.

The "Peter Principle" rocks!

Lewis C said...

Eli - I don't follow your reasoning for optimism over Obama's intention to achieve global regulation by opposing regional action.
His track record, from reneging on the US signature of the UNFCCC mandate (by adopting Bush's unilateral 2005 emissions baseline) within weeks of taking office, through his crushing of Copenhagen talks, through his sabotage of the senate climate bill (see Lizza's widely discussed New Yorker account) through 3.5yrs of 'climate' becoming a tabu subject for the administration, through to his describing the recent Colorado Springs firestorm as a "natural disaster", all the signs are of his adopting and advancing the Bush/Cheyney policy of a 'brinkmanship of inaction' with China.

US opposition to the EU initiative is right in line with that policy, even to the extent of vying with China over who can be more obdurate.

While I fully support the application of Cap, Allocate & Trade (it is the allocations that define the trade under any cap) having seen the effect on global anthro-CO2 outputs of hugely increased coal and oil prices in the last decade, it seems plain that additional costs on fossil carbon are not going to significantly cut its usage. It is the regulation of total carbon budget, the cap, that is the operational limiting factor - the allocations and trade can allow an equitable and efficient distribution to provide durability of the system over the decades.

From this perspective the EU initiative looks less like a practical emissions control measure and more like a long-overdue diplomatic signal of our growing disgust at the ongoing brinkmanship of inaction.

Regards,

Lewis

Brian said...

I think a lot more could be done with virtual attendance and video conferencing. Also a lot more cheaply. Don't forget though that scientific conferences are penny-ante emissions. The issue is a distraction.

David L - a carbon tax is a type of consumption tax, and it is hard but not impossible to make a consumption tax progressive, shifting the tax burden on the richer fraction of society. Exemptions for baseline amount of emissions and tax credits that are not dependent on a person's emissions should do the trick.

Lewis - I wrote the OP, not Eli. It's not in the Democrats' interest to become another Republican Party on climate. I disagree with some of your characterization even though I think Obama should've done more. On this particular issue, I think Obama is carrying water for airlines while keeping open the possibility of doing something real, and we'll see which strain is dominant.

John said...

To Brian,

In the post you say: "Airline emissions also aren't trivial and likely to increase substantially. Anyone who's calculated their own carbon footprint can see that months of efforts to control emissions get ruined by a single cross-country flight. "

When a reader, myself, then expands on the idea, asking about "airline emissions" by scientists attending conferences, you say "Don't forget though that scientific conferences are penny-ante emissions."

Please explain the apparent discrepancy.

John Puma

Lewis C said...

Brian - my apologies for mis-attributing your report to Eli.

I'd agree that it's not in the Democrat party's interest to become another Republican party on climate - excusing their inaction - and obstruction - behind the latter's switch to outright denial since Obama took office allows many voters to believe they would act if only they were allowed.

It is the gratuitous nature of Obama's inaction that indicates to me his adoption and advancement of the Cheyney-Bush policy of a brinkmanship of inaction with China.

For instance, why renege on the US signature of the UNFCCC mandate within weeks of taking office ?
Why massively snub the Chinese president, in public, at Copenhagen, before demanding a patently inequitable 'deal', whereby each American would have about three times the emissions rights of each Chinese in 2050 ?
Why set a US pledge at Cancun of just 3.67% off 1990 by 2020, under the veil that this is 17% off 2005, when the EU pledged 20% off 1990, and Clinton signed Kyoto for more than 3.67% off 1990 by 2012 ?
Why did he then ensure the failure of the senate bill, thus putting even the derisory 3.67% 'pledge' in doubt ?
And why refuse even to mention climate in the election campaign, when it could have been a highly potent wedge issue ?

I think it is because he's accepted the nationalist rationale of Cheyney's policy of a brinkmanship of inaction, effectively of waiting for China to be so destabilized by climate impacts (to which it is highly vulnerable, particularly in terms of crop failures) that the govt either cedes a climate deal on US terms, or is overthrown by popular unrest.

I'd be glad to be wrong on this, and so I'd be interested to read your explanation of Obama's motivation on the points above beside the others not listed.

Regards,

Lewis

Brian said...

John P - apologies if I was brusque, but I just mean that the real issue is airline emissions generally and how modern economies are structured to use airlines a lot and increasingly. Scientific conferences are a modest effect and not a cause of that problem. Also, there exists a skeptic theme of demanding near zero emissions from climate realists before taking climate seriously which I want to avoid (I know you're not doing that, I just don't want to feed into it). And if people do achieve very low emissions, their efforts are ridiculed.

Lewis:
1. cite/link re UNFCCC?

2. I tend to accept the mainstream position that China sank Copenhagen but am open to contrary arguments. No way any treaty would pass the US Senate though, so Obama was aware of that.

3. I expect Obama wanted to be believable in terms of a pledge, even though we're now doing even better.

4. Senate bill wasn't going to pass a filibuster, and claims it didn't need 60 votes are wrong. I fault Obama more on not doing medium size actions. He didn't kill it though, he just did almost nothing to help.

5. Climate wasn't polling well until this summer, and I'm still not sure how well it polls in context of political races. He's not completely ignored it:

"He did tell Rolling Stone magazine last month that climate change would remain a priority. “I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” Obama said. “There’s a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation.”"

http://www.rollcall.com/issues/57_141/Obama-Steers-Clear-on-Climate-214808-1.html?ref=corg

My big picture is no significant legislation will pass Congress without some Republican support. Barring a mega disaster, that won't happen in the next 4 years, maybe longer. Obama is focusing on incremental stuff through the Clean Air Act.

I believe Obama should do more with the bully pulpit, but I don't believe the pulpit works miracles.

John said...

Brian, your "not a cause of that problem" attitude, unfortunately, is reminiscent of the analysis of the shrewd business man who observed "we may lose one cent per unit but we'll make it up on volume."

To justify NOT doing what is logically unavoidable because of the well-established criminal insanity of skeptics is a pathetic reenactment of the political paralysis put on the country by Obama and the spineless Democrats.

If the science community cannot see, accept and promulgate the notion that an effective societal (softer landing) response to ACC will require profound changes in attitudes about consumption and comfort, starting with themselves, then the grisly end comes just a little sooner.

John Puma