Aviation vs. agri emissions: ‘I’m not hung up on it’ – Creed

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has said he is “not hung up” on debates that draw on comparisons between carbon emissions from agriculture versus carbon emissions from the aviation sector.

In recent months a growing number of rural TDs – including independent representatives Michael Fitzmaurice, Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Healy-Rae – have all raised issues relating to aviation emissions, questioning in particular why jet fuel is legally exempt from taxes and asking why the sector is not subject to stricter emissions reduction metrics – such as those faced by farmers.

According to the European Commission, by 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70% higher than in 2005, while the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forecasts that by 2050 they could grow by a further 300-700%.

This week, following the publication of the Government’s Climate Action Plan – which aims to reduce agricultural emissions by 10-15% by 2030 – the Government also confirmed its intention to increase the carbon tax from €20/t to €80/t over the next number of years – in line with budgetary considerations.

While agriculture – which is responsible for an estimated 33% of Ireland’s carbon footprint – is referenced more than 100 times in the 94-page document; aviation – which accounts for one fifth of the transport sector’s overall 20% emissions record – is mentioned just six times.

In a bid to tackle transport emissions, the plan outlines that a reduction of 40-50% by 2030 could be achieved by:
  • Increasing the number of passenger EVs (electric vans) on the road to 840,000 by 2030 from 500,000 in the National Development Plan (NDP);
  • Reaching 95,000 electric vans and trucks by 2030, compared with 19,000 in the NDP;
  • Procuring 1,200 low-emissions buses for public transport in cities;
  • Increasing the biofuel blend rate from the current E5 and B5 blends to E10 and B12.

However, the report also states: “We will also support action at EU level to reduce emissions from the aviation sector, which do not form part of national targets.”

Since 2012, greenhouse gas emissions associated with flights operating in the European Economic Area (EEA) – including domestic flights, as well as those to and from third countries – are covered by the EU’s ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme).

Under this scheme airlines are required to monitor, report and verify their emissions, and to surrender allowances against those emissions.

Airlines receive tradeable allowances covering a certain level of emissions from their flights per year and must purchase allowances to cover any shortfall between their allocated sum of free emissions allowances and their actual emissions, as reported annually.

To support the planned development of a global Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the EU agreed in 2014 to limit the scope of aviation in the EU ETS to flights within the EEA.

The Climate Action Plan outlines that CORSIA, which will come into effect in 2021, “aims to stabilise” global aviation emissions at 2020 levels by requiring airlines to offset any emissions growth after 2020 by purchasing eligible emission units generated by projects that reduce emissions in other sectors.

“As Ireland is a member of ICAO, Irish aircraft operators will have to offset any emissions growth after 2020 by purchasing eligible emission units, i.e. pay full carbon price,” the plan states.

However, rural TDs are continuing to pile pressure on Government to take more urgent action in this area.

‘Extreme caution’

For now, Minister Creed warns that “extreme caution” must be exercised when highlighting concerns about inter-connectivity.

“We should be extremely careful here because as an island that’s exporting, and that’s more dependent than most on international markets – whether it is exporting by air freight or by sea freight – we need to make sure the connectivity remains.

“I’m not an expert on how the accountancy procedure operates, if there is a flight going out of here and it’s 70% Irish and 30% Poles going back home where does the credit land?

I think there were issues around how the accountancy procedure would deal with that in terms of international travel. But connectivity, for an island economy, is very important.

When asked about arguments that stricter rules should be placed on Irish aviation emissions in line with regulations placed on the agri-food industry, Minister Creed replied: “I’m not hung up on that at all.

“We need connectivity, we need international markets. Air freight and international markets go hand in hand.

“How do you account for it? If you have a flight that is going from here to Zurich, and I’m a Swiss citizen on that flight, is it accounted for in Switzerland or here? How do you police that?

“I’m not hung up on it. Anything that makes accessing our markets more difficult we need to be careful about,” he said.