Aviation industry urged to ramp up commitment to combat climate change

The aviation industry must prepare for the impacts of climate change by utilising clean technology and policy tools to significantly reduce its carbon footprint, the International Civil Aviation Organisation has claimed.

In its 2016 Environmental Report, released this week, ICAO highlights the necessity of achieving carbon reductions in an expanding industry which is set to suffer increasingly from the extensive impacts of more extreme weather events exacerbated by rising global temperatures.

According to the report, a business-as-usual approach to reducing emissions in the sector – on a 5% annual increase projection – without major changes to technology or infrastructure would result in total emissions of around 56 billion tonnes of CO2 during the period 2015-2050.

The report stresses the importance of technological progress and market-based mechanisms to deliver the scale of improvement necessary to substantially lower this emissions figure and achieve the carbon-neutral industry growth target by 2020.

Commenting on the ICAO report’s findings, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said: “This edition of the ICAO Environmental Report shows how air transport is well on its way to carrying out forward-looking solutions – and sets out the strategic path for even greater progress.”

Innovative technology

Emissions reductions will be crucial for an aviation industry that is currently responsible for 2% of global emissions. The ICAO emphasises the importance of industry adaptation and resilience to fulfil its commitments to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in flight traffic by 90%; reduce CO2 emissions by 75% and reduce perceived aircraft noise by 65% by 2050.

Specifically, the organisation welcomes the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection’s (CAEP) new CO2 emissions certification standard, which will apply to new airplane type designs systems from 2020, as a crucial step to ensure optimal airplane energy efficiency.

The report looks at the potential of sustainable alternative fuels and innovative technology to reduce an airplane’s carbon footprint, highlighting the fact that aircraft produced today are 80% more fuel efficient than those built in the 1960s.

ICAO notes that savings can be made by greening airport infrastructure. A number of airports have recently attempted to become more sustainable by carrying out operations on renewable energy – Belfast International Airport, for example, recently undertook an initiative to receive power from an offsite-solar farm.

Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christina Figueres said: “The ICAO Environmental report is a crucial step that allows aviation to produce policies that leads to peaking emissions in the industry. This report allows for informed policy decisions based on sound science,” said

According to a report by CarbonBrief, aviation emissions through to 2050 could consume as much as 27% of the remaining carbon budget for the world to have a realistic chance of keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels without adequate climate action.

Fight or flight

Building on the COP21 agreement reached in Paris last December and new environmental standards for aircraft, the aviation industry has gradually started to progress on its sustainability goals.

In February of this year, ICAO announced that it had agreed an international carbon dioxide standard, which will lead to greater aircraft fuel efficiency, and the UN body is presently working on a market-based measure.

Aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, together responsible for 90% of CO2 emissions from planes worldwide, have recently thrust sustainable aviation into the spotlight with a number of green initiatives

The big test will come at the end of September when 190 countries will try to reach an agreement on the creation of a global market-based mechanism to offset CO2 emissions from international flights.

George Ogleby

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