Climate Change

Too early to gauge full impact of COVID-19 on global shipping, aviation: Emissions Gap Report

Document urges use of bio-, green and synthetic fuels in both sectors to reduce warming

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 11 December 2020

The novel coronavirus disease’s (COVID-19) impact on international shipping and aviation can’t yet be gauged, according to the recent United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report.  

While the total demand or seaborne transportation will decline by eight per cent in 2020 due to COVID-19, air passenger numbers are expected to be 55 per cent lower than 2019 levels and air cargo 12-15 per cent lower, the report said.

By May 2020, some segments in global shipping had seen an increase in activity compared with the same period in 2019, though container shipping capacity reduced by six per cent, the report said.

It said cargo shipping had been hit because of the downturn in manufacturing that the pandemic caused, which reduced the demand for seaborne trade of manufactured products and base materials.

The report also suggested it was too early to talk about how the downturn in global aviation would impact emissions. The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the sector will be felt till at least 2024.

“Current International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts suggest that short-haul traffic will recover more quickly than long-haul traffic. Market analysts suggest that some of the reductions in corporate travel could be permanent, which is supported by the Global Business Travel Association’s ongoing polling,” the report said.

Overall, emissions were likely to increase as traffic recovered, but there was significant uncertainty over the rate of recovery and the impact on long-term projections, the report said.

The eleventh meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection had made projections about the emissions from global aviation. This was before the pandemic struck.

These had suggested that emissions from international aviation would increase to 1.2–1.9 Gigatonne of carbon dioxide quivalent (GtCO2) by 2050 from about 0.5 GtCO2.

Revenue tonne-kilometres, a measure for transport work in the aviation sector, were also expected to increase fourfold in the same period.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in October 2018, the IATA had forecasted compound annual growth in air travel of 3.5 per cent. This was equal to a doubling over 20 years, the report said.

The report also urged both, shipping and aviation to move away from fossil fuels and adopt suitable alternatives such as bio-, synthetic and green fuels.

Both sectors would need to adopt a dual strategy of combining a maximisation of energy efficiency along with moving away from fossil fuels, the report said. They should adopt bio-, synthetic and green fuels which were the best substitutes for hydrocarbons, the report said.

Bio and synthetic fuels such as kerosene would have to be produced in a ‘green manner’ so that no fossil fuels were used in their production.

Shipping was in a much better position to use ammonia than aviation, the report said. This was because ships had a less constrained design in terms of volume and mass of fuel and therefore had greater options.

This would require a “rapid scale-up of new production and supply chains”. Also, policies to mandate the use of these fuels would be a determining factor, as their costs were much higher.

The report also said the international aviation sector currently relied on carbon offsets, like buying carbon credits, to meet International Civil Aviation Organization goals.

It said that carbon offsets created “a disincentive for investment in sector decarbonisation and could not be a permanent solution”.

Finally, the report noted the cost of fuel could increase manifold in the coming decades, increasing the cost of shipping and aviation. This, in turn, would likely suppress demand and could, in turn, decrease emissions.

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