01/12/2013

Climate change is being recognised

The TV news last Thursday evening included a report and a commentary on the increasingly frequent extreme weather events.


That TV news, at 7h30 pm on Thursday, 10 January, was extremely rich in content, including the Lance Armstrong doping affair, the ex-head of UBS squirming in front of a UK parliament select committee grilling and the warning of an imminent flu epidemic. All pretty grim, but perhaps not as grim as could happen weather-wise as a consequence of global warming.

The item in the news claimed that climate experts fear that there will not only be more extreme weather events, but also that they could be closely spaced in time and more violent. Particular reference was made to the grandparents and grandchildren, members of the Holmes family in Australia, who survived wildfires by staying three hours in the water under a jetty. Can you imagine how the other members of the family suffered when fearing the worst?

That same day, by coincidence, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2012 was the hottest year in the United States since official record-keeping began in 1895: this fact was the subject of the TV news item. Combining this with the devastation of hurricane Sandy and numerous natural disasters elsewhere in the world, even the public in the USA are starting to tell the politicians to get their heads out of the sand and worry about our long-term future!

A couple of years ago, in the UK, there was a report by a committee on climate change which was specific on aviation emissions of CO2. According to the report, future techical developments would mean that aviation could increase flights by 55% over the period until 2050 without any increase in CO2 emissions. With regard to the objective of reducing overall UK CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, this meant that aviation should be especially favoured: it should be allowed to benefit by cuts elsewhere!

The same report also recognised that there are non-CO2 emissions, not covered by such as the Kyoto agreement, which are attributed partly or wholly to aviation. Nitroge oxides are emitted by aircraft and land transport. However, radiative forcing effects at high altitude (cirrus cloud effects, ozone production and contrails which can progressively turn a blue sky to white) are clearly from aviation.

At about the same time, Geneva airport proudly announced an increase in passengers of about 6% in 2012 as compared to 2011, yet only an increase of 2% in the number of flights. This latter figure is, however, skewed by the fact that it includes non-commercial traffic (mainly light piston aircraft and business jets, both of which have significantly decreased). The bulk of the air traffic (the scheduled airlines) incresaed by 5%: it is mainly on this latter traffic that CO2 emissions would mainly be based.

So what is the policy in Switzerland towards cutting CO2 emissions. As far as I can tell, any policy which there might be does not include anything on air traffic other than internal Swiss flights. In other words, the burning of the increasing amounts of air fuel loaded in Geneva airport is just a SEP (someone else's problem), but the short-term financial gains are welcome (just like the bankers were saying until their world fell apart)! If all countries regard air traffic as a SEP then aircraft emissions will just keep rising!

How will the global temperature average rise by the end of the century, or even by 2050? If you are young enough to be affected by the answer then you should be pushing for an answer!

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