Yesterday’s announcement from the International Air Transport Association sees more vapour trail and mirrors being employed by the airline industry in an attempt to persuade the world that they care about climate change and want to cut emissions. This new approach will not mean substantial or real cuts in emissions.
Yesterday’s announcement from the International Air Transport Association sees more vapour trail and mirrors being employed by the airline industry in an attempt to persuade the world that they care about climate change and want to cut emissions. But only last week, British Airways flew business leaders from around the world to New York for a “Face to Face” conference to attack technologies, such as video conferencing, that could actually reduce emissions.
So what’s the problem with yesterday’s announcement? First, reading between the lines of IATA’s proposal, this new approach will not mean substantial or real cuts in emissions. Willie Walsh, on behalf of the airlines, set “aspirational goals” for the industry of reducing net carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 compared with 2005 levels.
This sounds impressive. But it is a 50 per cent cut in net emissions not gross emissions, so these emissions reductions will not be achieved by cuts within the aviation industry but through carbon trading – in other words other countries and sectors will make the reductions so that the aviation industry can continue with business as usual. This is hardly fair. The science clearly tells us the planet needs global emissions to peak and start declining by 2015 at the latest. Developed countries will then need to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. But Willie Walsh is wrong to think that aviation can simply offset the damage planes do to the climate.
The UK Committee on Climate Change warned only last week that carbon trading on its own would not be enough and that “the aviation industry should also plan, however, for deep cuts in gross C02.” No doubt Walsh has much to say about the green planes that will magically help bring emissions down in the far distant future. But the industry’s own projections of the improvements in the efficiency of planes are wildly optimistic. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution say that the industry’s efficiency targets are “clearly aspirations rather than projections.”
In their study on the impacts of aviation, “Predict and Decide: Aviation, climate change and UK policy,” (p.21) Carins and Newson state that by 2050, using optimistic forecasts of improvement in fuel efficiency and air traffic management and relatively modest growth rates, the carbon dioxide emissions from aviation will have approximately quadrupled between 1990 and 2050. Biofuels are also touted as a silver bullet, yet the technology is far from ready, and the rush for biofuels has led to rising food prices for the world’s poor and destruction of rainforests.
There is one definite solution to the problem of fast growing aviation emissions. The focus has to be on cutting the number of planes flying in our skies and that means scrapping plans for new runways, like the one at Heathrow, and investing in real alternatives like high speed rail.
Our guest writer is Anna Jones, Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace UKLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.