UN's top climate change scientist says civil aviation must move quickly to improve aircraft energy efficiency
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the UN IPCC
Fri 18 July 2008 – Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says there is growing evidence that the impact of climate change is far more serious than was ever anticipated and civil aviation must act faster in cutting emissions. He called for more investment in high-speed rail links as an alternative to flying and encouraged the development and use of video conferencing as an alternative to business air travel.
Dr Pachauri was speaking yesterday via a live video link to an event organized by the UK’s All-party Parliamentary Sustainable Aviation Group at Westminster, London to promote video conferencing as a viable and environmentally efficient substitute to taking business flights.
“The aviation industry and aircraft manufacturers have to move quickly towards improving the energy efficiency of aircraft and developing the use of sustainable fuels,” he said. “Civil aviation is an area where intervention and policy changes are absolutely essential and urgent at this point in time. It is vital that there is some form of progressive taxation on aviation which would both penalise those airlines that don’t achieve a high level of energy efficiency but that also encouraged the use of more efficient aircraft as well as sustainable fuels.
“On biofuels, there is a great deal of debate currently because some forms of biofuels are clearly not sustainable and they have major implications for food production. The sooner those countries promoting these methods of biofuel production get out of this practice, the better.
“But there is a need for second-generation biofuels and we should be promoting the development of biofuels from cellulosic materials. A great deal of research and development is required to ensure that, firstly, they become a technical reality and, secondly, to make them commercially viable. If they could be made available to civil aviation, we would certainly be moving towards a much more sustainable air transport industry.”
Dr Pachauri called for faster development of high-speed, city centre-to-city centre trains and other more energy efficient means of doing face-to-face business. “We need to find alternatives to travelling by aircraft and I greatly commend WWF’s campaign to substitute one in five business trips by air to video conferencing,” he told the audience.
“As we move towards a climate change agreement in Copenhagen next year, I have to say that civil aviation – which isn’t covered by the Kyoto Protocol – is still being neglected in the negotiations so far and ought to be targeted. That agreement must have very clear provisions for covering aviation emissions.
“There is now growing evidence that the impacts of climate change are going to be far more serious than we ever anticipated. Every piece of new evidence, every piece of new scientific research that is coming in shows a worsening of the scenario.”
Dr Pachauri’s support for video conferencing was echoed by another Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who also spoke via a video link to a London conference earlier this week. According to a Reuters report, he said that businessmen who take flights rather than use video conferencing are adding to global warming that is condemning millions of the world’s poorest people to death.
Developed countries had caused global warming and must therefore take the lead in slashing emissions of climate changing carbon gases, he maintained. “It is the countries which are the least responsible for causing climate change that are paying the heaviest price. Do not fly in the face of the poor by allowing the emissions produced by endless and unnecessary business flights to keep growing.”
Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Chair of the All-party Parliamentary Sustainable Aviation Group, commented: “There’s no doubt that the latest video conferencing technology can play a significant role in controlling and reducing the carbon footprint of business travel. The central theme of the WWF-UK campaign is an entirely realistic way forward, environmentally and economically. So, too, is taking the train wherever possible.”
Jeff Gazzard of the Aviation Environment Federation, an environmental NGO, and an advisor to the Group, said: “The UK Government’s entire ‘predict and provide’ policy of unrestrained aviation growth is incompatible with our carbon reduction targets. And many businesses around the world are too busy flying towards a climate crisis at 500 miles per hour to even stop and think. But a calm and serious examination of the green and productivity benefits of cutting flights and using video conferencing instead is absolutely vital. We will be making sure companies get the message.”