Caroline Lucas on Aviation Emissions

Oh dear, oh dear oh dear. Our Ph.D. in Elizabethan literature still hasn\’t quite managed to absorb the major point about cap and trade systems for carbon emissions.

Now I\’ll agree that she and her Green pals have some decent points here. If emissions from aircraft cause more warming (due to altitude) than emissions on the ground then there is a case for a multiplier to be added to the cost of aircraft emissions. They\’re also absolutely correct that permits should be auctioned, not given away.


Essentially, the idea is that a cap is set on aviation\’s overall emissions, and the airlines are allocated a certain number of permits to cover them. If they are efficient, and don\’t need all the permits, they can sell them and if they need more, they can buy them.

Erm, by allowing airlines to buy permits not originally issued to airlines, we\’re not in fact capping airline emissions. Which is a good thing because we don\’t actually want to do that.

It doesn\’t take a Nobel Prize winner in physics to work out that the only way this can possibly reduce aviation emissions is if there is a sufficiently rigorous overall emissions cap, and serious limits to the amount of extra permits aviation is allowed to buy from other sources (ie other industrial sectors, or projects abroad).

But that\’s the point. We don\’t want to reduce airline emissions. We want to reduce total emissions. We want to reduce the lowest value emissions in fact, while allowing the higher value ones to continue (in detail, those emissions where the value is greater than the costs they impose).

Indeed, according to the commission\’s own figures, the proposal would mean that by 2020, instead of growing by 83% under a do-nothing scenario, aviation emissions would still grow by an extraordinary 78%. And since the effect of the scheme would be to add only a maximum 9 euros to the price of a ticket, it\’s hardly surprising that it will have almost no effect on aviation demand. By the same date, under the proposals, instead of growing by 142%, demand is still predicted to grow by a staggering 138%. If that\’s global climate leadership, I wouldn\’t want to see climate complacency.

It really does look like Dr. Lucas doesn\’t actually understand the point of cap and trade at all. We\’re not trying to reduce emissions from any one source. We\’re trying to reduce total emissions. And what we\’re doing by cap and trade is using a market mechanism to try and find out which are the valuable emissions which should continue and which are the low value ones which should be curtailed. She is insisting that a specific sector must be curtailed: but the point of cap and trade is to find out which sector should be curtailed.

Essentially, she\’s acting as a central planner: avaiation emissions should be x. But cap and trade replaces that planner with the market. As long as total emissions are under y, we don\’t actually care whether the aviation sector\’s emissions are under x.

Indeed, we can go further. Imagine that CO2 extraction from the atmosphere is successful (Wild idea, I know, but something like Planktos and iron fertilisation of the oceans.) . We then get to a point where we\’re entirely happy for aviation emissions to be above y, let alone x, because we\’re extracting CO2 as well, meaning that total emissions are below y. And the thing is, once we\’ve set our cap and instituted a market in the permits, whether or not this is a good idea will be revealed by the relative prices.

In short, by insisting that aviation be treated as a sector which cannot buy permits from other parts of the economy, Caroline Lucas is showing that she doesn\’t understand the point of a cap and trade market in permits in the first place.

5 comments on “Caroline Lucas on Aviation Emissions

  1. Elizabethan literature? Smegging hell! The Green party is supposed to focus on issues of a scientific nature. We expect them to be led by someone qualified in the first.

    My idea for an anti-Green banner bears more validity by the day:
    “We don’t take Physics lessons from English students!”

    It should be hung from every oil platform and nuclear reactor.

  2. I suspect that she is not stupid, she just can’t face what she really thinks, much less express it, and so has to hide her real agenda. This is not about carbon trading at all. It is about oiks going to the South of Spain and ruining it for the nice middle class English people who are just mortified by their behaviour. So what she wants to do is end cheap flights. But of course you can’t say that, even if you’re a Green. So she blathers about carbon trading instead. This is, I think, just class warfare in disguise.

  3. Well Tim, you might get full marks for sarcasm, but you certainly don’t for your knowledge about aviation emissions and the Emissions Trading Scheme.

    There are good reasons, dear Tim, why I precisely, exactly, and specifically DO want to cut aviation emissions, rather than emissions in general.

    As the ETS and aviation proposals stand at the moment, the onus for reducing emissions will be placed very much on other sectors. The argument that this makes perfect sense because the same amount of reductions will be made at a lower cost to society is flawed for at least three reasons.

    First, encouraging the aviation industry to grow further before applying the brake of demand restraint will increasingly lock people into air-dependent lifestyles. The more embedded such living and working patterns become, the harder it will be to reduce demand for air travel in future.

    Second, the aviation sector’s high demand for permits is likely to put significant strain on the existing system, with the risk that current members will lobby aggressively for a loosening of the overall cap – thereby reducing the effectiveness of the scheme.

    Third, if there is no parallel emissions charge (or equivalent measure) to cover aviation’s non-CO2 emissions, the effect of aviation buying the right to emit a tonne of CO2 from another sector with much lower non-CO2 impacts will be a net disbenefit to the environment (since aviation’s non-CO2 climate impacts are between 2 and 4 times higher than its CO2 impact alone).

    It was with these reasons in mind that an overwhelming majority of the full parliament voted for my proposal for a closed aviation ETS scheme last year, and a majority supported my amendment for limits to the amount aviation can buy from other sources, in the vote last week.

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