From flight shaming to flight pride - IATA chief has a goal to ‘keep the world flying sustainably and with pride’ and pushes for the other transport sectors to stand up to emissions

30 December, 2019

International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac has claimed many times in 2019 that air transport in general is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and called on other industries to follow suit.

IATA has committed to the goal of reducing total emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050, and is offsetting emissions from 2020 through the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Mr de Juniac said the goal of the industry is "to keep the world flying sustainably and with pride".

Moreover, IATA has commissioned research which, it says, proves that environmental taxes would prove to be "highly unpopular" across Europe and that governments should "listen to their citizens" and tackle sustainable aviation by other means. Of course IATA would be expected to say that but in the recent UK general election the two parties which supported the most draconian measures against air travel, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, did not do very well. Of course there were many other reasons for that but it is a fact nevertheless.

SEE RELATED REPORT: Aviation and tourism in the UK General Election: largely ignored

The 'pride' part of Mr de Juniac's statement is clearly a rebuff to the 'flight shame' movement which is growing consistently throughout the world amongst the chattering classes.

Boeing's Randy Tinseth also stressed his concept of 'flight pride' in a recent speech, insisting it still prevails among a growing middle class. He saw no reason for shame in what the industry has achieved. "Air transport is a catalyst of globalisation and supports 3.6% of world GDP and 67 million jobs", he said, adding that "airlines produce 80% of their carbon on routes where no other mode of transport is available."

Removing air services would also isolate, possibly even destroy island communities dramatically - economically, socially and culturally.

There are many challenges confronting the industry as it tries to "clean its act up." You can only plant so many trees. Biofuels are expected to be the 'silver bullet' but they are three times as expensive to produce as conventional aviation fuel and there are issues of supply to airlines. Moreover, the supply from energy crops (plants) and agricultural sources often means that food crops are substituted where they are most needed. When they come from wood logs that means a tree has been chopped down somewhere. And first-generation biofuels are nowhere near 'carbon-neutral' as they are often claimed to be.

Clearly this is a very long-term project with many trials and tribulations along the way. But at least the industry is trying. Just about every airport in the world seems to have prepared, or is preparing, or will start to prepare in 2020 a strategic environmental plan. Around 50 European airports are now 'carbon neutral' and close to 100 more are actively engaged in carbon management.

Meanwhile, governmental organisations are mapping put their own blueprint, such as the European Union, which in Dec-2019 adopted its 'Green Deal', claimed to be a 'disruptive' policy overhaul, to deliver - finally - effective ATM (Air Traffic Management) reform - as this offers a significant potential to reduce the sector's carbon footprint.

It remains the case though that even now aviation's contribution to 'greenhouse gas' emissions is small. The European Commission estimate (Dec-2019) is that aviation accounted for 13.9% of total greenhouse gas emissions emitted in the European transport sector, as of 2017. Road transport accounted for 71.7% of total emissions. Those figures will be broadly accurate for other regions. The EU's European Green Deal seeks a 90% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Globally, aviation accounts for 2% of all carbon emissions. That figure hasn't changed in years. To return to Mr de Juniac's comment about the need for "other industries to reduce their carbon footprint", shipping has been very much in the news recently. Shipping, which transports 90% of world trade, is responsible for 2-2.5% of greenhouse gas emissions depending on which source you prefer, putting it on a par with aviation.

Those maritime emissions are projected to increase significantly if mitigation measures are not put in place swiftly. According to the 3rd IMO GHG (International Maritime Organisation - Greenhouse Gas) study, shipping emissions could under a 'business-as-usual' scenario increase by between 50% and 250% by 2050, undermining the objectives of the Paris Agreement (or what is left of it following the US withdrawal).

Suddenly, in 2019, shipping came under the microscope like it never has before and in late Dec-2019 shipping associations proposed creating a research fund with USD5 billion raised by the industry to develop technology to help the sector meet UN targets on cutting emissions. There would be a mandatory contribution of USD2 per ton on fuel used by ships to raise money for a research fund to help develop cleaner technology for the industry.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency that is the equivalent of aviation's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), aims to cut the industry's greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2008 levels by 2050, a target that will require the swift development of zero or low emission fuels and new ship designs using cleaner technology. That target figure is exactly in line with aviation's declared intent.

So, after a difficult year for the aviation business it looks at least as if there will be a level playing field in 2020 with at least two transport modes for the Greta Thunberg project and the global carbon protest movements to vent their ire on. Let's see which one gets the more attention?