More Government cold air

The government have just launched a scheme to "reduce emissions of CO2 by 14.4 Mega tonnes (sic)" from air traffic! Amazing, I hear you ask, and how do they intend to achieve this? By putting quotas on landing slots, auctioned according to demand? By quintupling air passenger duty? No, no, no. These are politically unpleasant and don't feed into Britain's "low carbon economy". How about a techno-fix? Yessir - that'll do.

Apparently we'll achieve this magnificent result by improving the efficiency of air conditioning and therefore reducing fuel use by 10%. 10%? That sounds a bit high for air-conditioning, isn't it?

Yes it is, as we discover just 50 words later in the Government's press release. The Science Minister Malcolm Wicks is quoted as saying that air conditioning in aircraft is actually responsible for an "estimated 4% of total fuel burnt". Only 4% then!

Ok, so assuming (perhaps unwisely) that the remainder of the government's original calculation is accurate, it's actually only going to "reduce" 5.76 MtCO2. It's all looking a little less rosy. Divide that by the 25 year age of the fleet (over which the savings will be made) and we are talking about a paltry 230 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

And, of course, all this is contingent on the technology working at all or producing the level of efficiency savings which the benefitting company's press team have helpfully suggested. Do we have much hope that this will be the case?

Yet, as the press release says "Air traffic is forecast to double over the next 15 to 20 years, so this project is of vital importance." Right - vitally important. But perhaps it is more important that aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus, who are part of the project, be seen to be doing this sort of thing?

Finally we move on to the crux of this little parable - the fact that the technology will be transferred to buildings and planes. Great! Transferable technology, everything doing it's bit, etc etc, what's the problem? We can all agree that aeroplanes do require air-conditioning - the minus 50 degree stratosphere into which vomit their emissions does need to be warmed slightly before it reaches the impoverished British tourist on their 8th short haul flight to Amsterdam that year. But when it comes to air conditioning for buildings I foresee a slight problem with claims that 'energy efficiency' result in 'emissions reductions'.

And here we meet our old friend the business as usual emissions scenario. Follow me closely while I wave a wand over this crystal ball - let us look into the future where we see the 10% (or is it 4%?) efficiency that we are promised through this nascent technology will result in a massive carbon saving in buildings over the next 40 years. Yes, because as the prevalence of air-conditioning increases thanks to climate change, the potential savings also correspondingly increase! Remember, if, like the aviation industry, you can show as big a growth as possible, therein lie greater opportunities for making emissions 'reductions'!

As usual, we see that instead of developing policy levers to curb consumption and travel, the government is mixing a new tin of green paint and paying for it to be smeared over one of two of the more pointless and damaging things in our society - aviation and air conditioning.