Climate Weekly: Flying into a carbon budget ceiling

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Is there any space for airport expansion in countries aiming for net zero emissions?

The aviation sector has largely sidestepped carbon constraints to date. Emissions from air travel across borders are regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization – never mind the fact its climate strategy is not aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

It is potentially significant, then, that France’s environment authority is not satisfied with this line. Ruling on a plan for facilities at Marseille Airport to accommodate millions more passengers, the authority ordered developers to show how it was compatible with the country’s 2050 carbon neutrality goal.

This demand does not automatically rule out airport development, but it does make it harder to justify. In the UK and France, which both legislated for net zero last month, independent advisers say the government should count international aviation in its carbon budgets. Allowed to grow unfettered, the sector is projected to produce the bulk of emissions by mid-century.

What goes for Marseille could also apply to the much bigger plan for a third runway at Heathrow. It’s a poser for politicians who have declared climate emergency yet backed the airport project on economic grounds. Watch this space.

Sailing into the wind

One person not buying any airline greenwash is Greta Thunberg. The indomitable Swedish teen activist announced plans to sail a racing yacht to New York for a four-month climate tour of the Americas.

Thunberg’s zero carbon voyage will be anything but an easy ride, as she crosses the Atlantic during hurricane season in close quarters with her dad, a filmmaker and Monaco princeling Pierre Casiraghi.

On arrival, she is to attend UN chief Antonio Guterres’ summit before traveling overland to Santiago, Chile for December’s UN climate negotiations.

Climate conversations

Good climate strategy does not include airport expansion – Jefim Vogel, Joel Millward-Hopkins and Yannick Oswald, Leeds University

Landing ground

With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due to publish another blockbuster science report next week, attention is turning to the role of land use in tackling climate change.

A leaked draft highlighted there could be trade-offs between storing carbon, producing bioenergy and feeding the world. The challenge for policymakers is to find ways of meeting climate and development goals on a finite area of land.

Natalie Sauer is here to help, identifying nine solutions to the food-forest-fuel trilemma.

Smart money 1

If Poland builds more coal plants, it won’t be because investors want them. Shareholder activists on Thursday won a landmark court ruling to block plans to build Ostrołęka C in the country’s northeast.

In what Client Earth claims was a world first, utility Enea was forced to defend its use of coal in an economy that increasingly favours renewables. Rising carbon prices and falling costs of wind power make the project not just environmentally damaging but financially foolish, they argued.

It is a setback for the government’s coal-friendly approach to energy security and reinforces pressure from Brussels to embrace a cleaner energy mix.

Smart money 2

The world’s biggest multilateral finance institution is looking to exit fossil fuels altogether, under a draft strategy dropped last Friday afternoon.

With a few caveats, the European Investment Bank plans to stop lending to coal, oil and natural gas infrastructure projects from 2020.

The plan is subject to approval by EU finance ministers and may face pushback from the likes of Germany around gas, experts say.

Quick hits

Brexit carbon windfall

British polluters could see their carbon costs cut in half if the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal this autumn, Chloé Farand reports.

The UK government plans to introduce a carbon tax of £16 a tonne in the event of no-deal Brexit, while EU carbon prices are rising well above that.

It reduces the incentive for big emitters to invest in clean technology, at a time the UK wants to show off its green credentials as host of the 2020 UN climate talks.

Read more on: Climate politics