As the world recovers from one crisis – COVID-19 – attention now turns to how to prevent the next: climate change. The aviation industry has a huge stake in this conversation. A sector already reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic is now having serious discussions about its long-term sustainability.
The targets set in the 2016 Paris Agreement are modest. But as temperatures rise, the world – and the aviation industry in particular – is falling well behind the curve.
Aviation emissions have risen at a faster rate than any other industry. They are on track to become an increasingly large proportion of any future emissions. So how can the sector save its reputation and continue to be commercially viable? What impact will the need for greater sustainability have on aviation?
Two of ICF’s experts in this area recently shared their thoughts. Alastair Blanshard and Kata Cserep have suggested potential routes towards a more sustainable future for aviation in their powerful piece, which we encourage you to read in full here.
Alastair is a senior manager and our sustainable aviation lead. He brings vast experience supporting sustainable aviation fuel offtake agreements and investments, developing and implementing decarbonisation strategies, assessing carbon emissions and schemes, and supporting clean technology start-ups. Kata is our vice president and global managing director of aviation. She’s a leading expert in global aviation, serving clients in government, the private sector, the investment community, and industry associations.
The risks to the aviation industry are too big to ignore
In their piece, Alastair and Kata underline just how much still needs to be done to reduce the aviation industry’s contribution to climate change. They cite the recent Transition Pathway Initiative, which investigated 20 airlines to find out how they are working towards meeting the Paris Agreement pledges. They found that none are on track. In developed countries in particular, aviation carbon emissions are on the rise, while all other sources are enjoying a decrease.
With flights now resuming after the pandemic, the pressure is growing on aviation. The reputational, regulatory, and disruption risks to the airline sector will only increase. Early warning signs are already flashing, with “flight shame” reducing demand and a slow but significant shift to other forms of transport such as trains. A drop in business demand represents a particular risk, with new ways of working and pressure to demonstrate social and environmental responsibility having an impact.
Another source of pressure is climate change itself. Aviation is an industry that is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather, whether through flight delays or the flooding of airports.
Low-cost carriers vs. full-service carriers
Alistair and Kata point out that there are significant differences between the business models of low-cost carriers (LLC) and the more traditional full-service carriers (FSC). LLCs often have higher passenger loads and more efficient planes, resulting in lower emissions per Revenue Passenger Kilometre in comparison with FSCs.
LCCs created approximately 20% less value per ton of CO2 emitted than FSCs. And while FSCs get a higher revenue from their passengers because of their premium service, those higher levels of service also cost more. The bottom line is that LCCs generate profits per ton of CO2 that are around 60% higher than FSCs.
But as a whole, the aviation industry is struggling after the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the momentum behind sustainable aviation has been lost. And while many airlines had made carbon commitments, many are now fighting to remain commercially viable.
The will is still there, however. The vast majority of people within aviation expect an increasing focus on sustainability. What that focus will look like is less clear, but Alistair and Kata point to three key trends:
- More investment in clean airline technologies
- More investment required in sustainable fuels
- More targeted investing in sustainable solutions, rather than a focus on offsetting
A time for practical action
It’s undeniable that climate change is having an increasingly important impact on the aviation industry. And, that the sector will ultimately have to pay for its emissions in some way.
Yet Alistair and Kata suggest that there is an opportunity here for the industry. For an airline or an airport, a more sustainable strategy will lead to reduced costs. It will mitigate regulatory risks and strengthen their brand. And as costs rise, and stakeholder and customer pressures increase, Alistair and Kata suggest six pragmatic, practical actions that airlines can take now.
Read their full article here to find out what they are.
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