The dawn of cli­mate-friendly air travel

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

As the world be­comes in­creas­ingly in­ter­con­nected, de­mand for air travel is grow­ing, with more than 30,000 new large air­craft ex­pected to take to the skies in the next few years. But if we are to sus­tain growth in air travel with­out ag­gra­vat­ing global warm­ing, we must quickly re­duce avi­a­tion-re­lated CO2 emis­sions, which are sub­stan­tial and not cov­ered by the Paris cli­mate agree­ment that more than 190 coun­tries agreed to last De­cem­ber.

For­tu­nately, now is the per­fect time to de­cou­ple avi­a­tion emis­sions from air-travel growth. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 191 coun­tries con­vened in Mon­treal for the 39th Ses­sion of the United Na­tions’ In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion; af­ter decades of wran­gling, they have agreed to an avi­a­tion­spe­cific cli­mate agree­ment.

The new ICAO frame­work aims for “car­bon-neu­tral growth” in in­ter­na­tional avi­a­tion from 2020 on­ward, and has as its cen­tre­piece a global market-based mea­sure (GMBM) to help air­lines af­ford­ably cap their net emis­sions at 2020 lev­els. When im­ple­mented, it will be the first car­bon-emis­sions cap on a global in­dus­try that does not no­tice­ably in­crease costs for con­sumers. And air­lines will pur­chase emis­sions re­duc­tions from other eco­nomic sec­tors, thus fun­nelling bil­lions of dol­lars into low-car­bon de­vel­op­ment around the world.

For the first six years, the new frame­work will ap­ply only to flights be­tween coun­tries that have vol­un­tar­ily adopted it, which means that the ICAO will have to en­cour­age ad­e­quate par­tic­i­pa­tion for the pro­gram to be ef­fec­tive. This opt-in ap­proach has some crit­ics, but whether a pro­gram is cat­e­gorised as “vol­un­tary” or “manda­tory” is be­side the point, be­cause in­ter­na­tional ac­cords gen­er­ally ap­ply only to the sovereign coun­tries that have de­cided to join them.

Some 64 coun­tries have al­ready sig­nalled their will­ing­ness to sign on to the ICAO agree­ment, and to­gether they ac­count for nearly 80% of ex­pected growth in CO2 emis­sions above 2020 lev­els. That isn’t 100%, but it’s a great start, and we can ex­pect more coun­tries to join when they see oth­ers reap­ing the ben­e­fits of low-car­bon de­vel­op­ment.

The air­lines them­selves will wel­come a co­her­ent global frame­work that es­tab­lishes clear and pre­dictable com­pli­ance met­rics, rather than a reg­u­la­tory patch­work that dif­fers from coun­try to coun­try and com­pli­cates in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tions. To min­imise com­pli­ance costs – and be­cause en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity is now a key com­pet­i­tive marker for cus­tomers and in­vestors alike – air­lines will likely en­cour­age the coun­tries where they do business to par­tic­i­pate in the ICAO pro­gramme.

The new agree­ment pro­vides an enor­mous op­por­tu­nity to pre­vent the emis­sion of 2.5 bil­lion tons of CO2 in the first 15 years – the equiv­a­lent of tak­ing roughly 35 mil­lion cars off the road ev­ery year the pro­gramme is in force. The agree­ment will also spur ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Boe­ing, Air­bus, Bom­bardier, and Em­braer – which are al­ready in­vest­ing in qui­eter, more fuel-ef­fi­cient air­craft and ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments for ex­ist­ing mod­els – to de­velop cleaner tech­nolo­gies that will al­low them to pur­chase fewer emis­sions off­sets.

How­ever, the frame­work de­cided in Mon­treal is not com­plete, and cru­cial de­tails need to be worked out quickly so that air­lines can be­gin to plan how they will meet the new en­vi­ron­men­tal tar­gets.

De­vel­oped coun­tries have al­ready of­fered to help im­ple­ment the GMBM, which, it is hoped, will pave the way for in­vest­ments in emerg­ing economies that are be­com­ing new avi­a­tion pow­er­houses. If the coun­tries can leapfrog over old tech­nolo­gies, they can be­come new lead­ers in car­bon­s­mart fly­ing. They should seize the op­por­tu­nity be­fore them and join the ICAO frame­work so that their man­u­fac­tur­ers have a clear and pre­dictable path for­ward.

With the Paris cli­mate agree­ment on track to en­ter into force in the com­ing months – more rapidly than any­one ever thought pos­si­ble – we still have that mo­men­tum. The ICAO agree­ment is the next wave in the in­ter­na­tional bat­tle against cli­mate change. To­gether, the two agree­ments will boost our chances of de­liv­er­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth. By clean­ing up our car­bon foot­print now, fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of air trav­el­ers from all coun­tries will be able to look out their win­dow onto a healthy planet.

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