Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 18, 2015

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 517-9364,

New Report Shows United States Must Support Strong
Airplane Pollution Rules in Paris Climate Treaty 

WASHINGTON— As the world prepares to meet in Paris to fight global warming, the Center for Biological Diversity today urged U.S. climate negotiators to support action on airplane emissions based on a major new report showing enormous potential to reduce aviation’s planet-warming pollution.

In a letter to Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change, the Center highlights a new International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) report showing that some of the top 20 transatlantic air carriers can drive down greenhouse emissions by as much as 51 percent using existing technology and operational improvements.

“In other words, airlines with the worst fuel efficiency can improve their carbon footprint by more than half today simply by matching the efficiency of their competitors,” the Center’s letter notes.

“This report’s dramatic findings show why the Obama administration must support strong action against airplane pollution in Paris,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Airplanes pose a high-flying menace to our climate. If this rapidly growing pollution source is not included in an international climate treaty, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prevent catastrophic warming.”

Paris negotiators hope to produce an agreement that will help keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. But language folding aviation emissions into this goal was recently deleted from the negotiating Paris text and replaced by vague language that makes no mention of a temperature cap.

The ICCT’s report examined the top 20 airlines’ fuel efficiency for nonstop transatlantic flights linking Europe, the United States and Canada. Norwegian Air Shuttle ranked first in fuel efficiency, while British Airways ranked last. Factors leading to Norwegian’s much better performance included newer airplanes, the use of efficient Boeing 787-8 aircraft, and a smaller proportion of business and first class seats.

If aviation were considered a country, it would rank seventh after Germany in terms of carbon emissions — and the industry’s emissions are set to more than triple by 2050.

The aviation industry has fought measures to curb its carbon pollution for nearly two decades. It now appears to support aviation standards under discussion by the International Civil Aviation Organization that would cover just 5 percent of the existing fleet by 2030 and barely bend the curve of its steeply rising greenhouse gas pollution. 

While fighting meaningful standards, the industry touts carbon offsets as the way to achieve its professed goal of carbon-neutral growth by 2020. Offsets, however, are notoriously difficult to trace, verify and monitor, and some do nothing for the climate at all because their purported carbon savings are illusory. Cost-effective, technology-driven greenhouse gas standards for new and existing planes, on the other hand, verifiably prevent and avoid greenhouse gases in the first place, rather than merely “offsetting” them.

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.

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