Aircraft emissions proven to affect climate change, SA on track in greening practice

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Washington — The US government has found that jet engine exhaust is adding to climate change and endangering human health, and needs to be regulated.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday, 25 July, that it will use its authority under the Clean Air Act to impose limits on aircraft emissions.

Jet engines spew significant amounts of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, into the upper atmosphere, where they trap heat from the sun. But proposed rules such as imposing fuel-efficiency standards have faced stiff opposition from aircraft makers and commercial airlines.

Aircraft emissions were not addressed as part of the landmark global climate agreement agreed to in Paris in December. But since South Africa's Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of the South African Government – agreeing to adhere to the international climate change regime under the UNFCCC - ground-breaking changes in greening the SA airspace have come about. 

Just last week, South Africa launched its third solar power airport in Upington in the Northern Cape, marking the third green energy airport in South Africa.

Because of South Africa's developing nature, the country is able to erect green enterprises from the get-go. In developed countries like the US, already established businesses have to reinvent their practices to adhere to a green status. 

"Addressing pollution from aircraft is an important element of US efforts to address climate change," said Janet McCabe, EPA's acting assistant administrator for air and radiation. She said aircraft are the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the US transportation sector, and that is expected to increase.

Cars and trucks in the country are already regulated.

The EPA's findings do not apply to small piston-engine planes or to military aircraft.

A UN panel in February recommended new emissions standards for international flights that require an average 4% reduction in fuel consumption during the cruising phase of flight. The new regulations from the International Civil Aviation Organization require that new aircraft designs meet the standards beginning in 2020, and that designs already in production comply by 2023.

Environmental groups have criticized the new international standards as too weak to actually slow global warming. Planes burn the most fuel during takeoffs and landings, while cruising at high altitudes is the most fuel-efficient period.

Environmentalists say aviation accounts for about 5% of global greenhouse emissions, though the UN and EPA cite studies concluding it's actually less than 2%.

The EPA finding announced Monday is expected to result in similar limits on domestic carriers, which critics say is long overdue.

"People should not have to choose between mobility and a healthy climate," said Marcie Keever, legal director for the environmental group Friends of the Earth. "The EPA's nine-year delay on regulating aircraft emissions failed the American people. Now it's time for the Obama administration to issue a strong rule, to hold the aviation industry accountable.

On home ground, South Africa has vowed to invest in their own green economy, making the regional airports more self-sufficient through solar energy.

SEE MORE HERE: SA to continue investing in green economy - DEA


What to read next on Traveller24:

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