For Immediate Release, June 5, 2015

Contact: Vera Pardee, (858) 717-1448,

EPA Finds Airplane Pollution Endangers Climate, Fails to Curb Emissions

As Aviation Emissions Climb, Obama Administration Decides to Await Outcome of Long-fruitless International Negotiations

WASHINGTON— Greenhouse gas pollution from America’s aircraft fleet harms the climate and endangers human health and welfare, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found today in a proposed rulemaking. But the agency also proposed handing off responsibility for airplane emissions to a secretive international aviation organization that hasn’t produced a single measure to curb aircraft-induced global warming in 18 years of effort.

The EPA began evaluating the climate risk of airplane pollution last year, shortly after the Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations filed a notice of intent to sue the agency for failing to reduce aircraft emissions.

“Airplane carbon pollution is skyrocketing, but the EPA is still dodging responsibility for curbing this climate threat,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel and supervising attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Passing the buck to an international organization that’s virtually run by the airline industry won’t protect our planet from aircrafts’ rapidly growing emissions.”

The EPA’s “endangerment finding” is based in part on the rapid growth in airplane greenhouse gas pollution. If commercial aviation were considered a country, it would rank seventh after Germany in terms of carbon emissions, and those emissions are projected to more than triple by 2050.

Today’s EPA announcement proposes waiting for action from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has been tasked with reducing greenhouse gases from airplanes since 1997.

In the last 18 years, the ICAO has not adopted any measure to curb aircraft-induced global warming. The organization has rejected, in turn, efficiency standards, fuel taxes, emissions charges and global emissions trading. Despite the ICAO’s failure to act, the EPA intends to wait to see if the ICAO will finally propose emission standards in 2016.

Even if the ICAO does act next year, it would likely set only an “energy intensity” standard, allowing overall emissions to increase as miles traveled continue to grow. The standard would also likely cover only newly designed aircraft, not those currently in service. This exclusion means it would take decades to cover the current fleet, since aircraft have operational lifetimes of 25 to 30 years.
By 2030 only some 5 percent of the global fleet would have to comply with ICAO’s weak carbon standards. Other emissions contributing to climate change, such as nitrogen oxides, black carbon and water vapors, would be left unregulated.

Aircraft carbon emissions can be sharply reduced even without the introduction of new technology; a recent study shows that the most efficient airlines flying today emit 26 percent less carbon than the least efficient ones.

“We and others petitioned the EPA to set aircraft greenhouse gas emissions standards back in 2007,” Pardee said. “Eight years later, the agency finally acknowledged that aircraft emissions endanger our planet, but it still refuses to take meaningful action. We’re disappointed that the Obama administration remains sufficiently captive to the airline industry to consider allowing unlimited aircraft carbon emissions for what could be decades to come.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


Go back