The European aviation sector must come together to work on a net zero goal, says airport industry leader
(photo: ACI Europe)
Fri 31 Jan 2020 – The aviation sector in Europe is facing a daunting challenge over climate change and there is a need to go beyond the industry’s current emissions goals with an ambition to collectively achieve net zero over the long term, said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, at last week’s Aviation Sustainability Summit in Brussels organised by the airport trade body. The climate emergency was not only driving EU policy but also financial investors were starting to limit their exposure to the most carbon intensive industries and it was clear aviation was under the spotlight for its contribution to global warming, he said. Policies and regulations should be focused on decarbonising the sector but not reducing demand for the sake of it, he argued. Despite the sector’s significant economic and social benefits, its fast-growing emissions meant aviation has no choice but to transform, Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said in a keynote address.
Attended by EU policymakers and aviation industry representatives, Jankovec told the conference: “We may be a small part of the problem but the reality is that we are a growing part of the problem and this is what we need to change. Aviation is facing the challenge of societal acceptability. We have gone in a very short space of time from a sector associated with freedom, fulfilment and progress to also being seen as a sector damaging the planet, with ‘flygskam’ becoming a common buzzword.
“This is a reality we cannot ignore. It has significant potential impacts, firstly with our growth prospects but also with our reputation, our social and business mandate and our ability to access capital, both human and financial. We are therefore facing today a business transformation imperative, at least as ACI sees it for the airport industry and, of course, we must address our climate impact fully.”
ACI Europe is currently piloting its sustainability strategy launched last year, which targets airports becoming net zero for the emissions under their control by 2050 in alignment with current EU climate action policy and the Paris Agreement.
“Crucially, this is not just a collective commitment by ACI but is a pledge that has been undersigned by more than 200 European airports that are individually committed to the same objective,” said Jankovec, adding that eight more airports had signed since December to bring the total to 212.
“What we need to do now is look beyond airports to the entire aviation sector and in doing so we need, of course, to recognise and accept that cutting emissions from aircraft is much more difficult than cutting emissions that airports control.
“We do have common goals under the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) umbrella that airports of course support but clearly we need to go beyond those goals and complement them with an ambition to collectively achieve net zero over the long term. This is a must and as airports we are very encouraged to see some airlines, such as IAG, leading the way along that path.”
Policies and regulations to decarbonise the aviation sector should ensure they preserve air connectivity and “positive externalities”, as well as enabled and incentivised the industry effectively, cautioned Jankovec.
He said a roadmap to reach long-term goals should focus on ATM reform, CORSIA and the EU ETS, sustainable aviation fuels, intermodality and R&D in alternative propulsion.
Despite the Paris Agreement being the most successful multilateral agreement in the UN system, the world remained on the wrong path and climate change is moving faster and stronger than was expected, the UNFCCC’s Ovais Sarmad told the conference.
“We will not reach our goal if we continue on this path,” he said. “We simply cannot continue to use the same resources in the same way as we have been doing up till now. This includes major industries that consume fossil fuels such as transport and aviation.
“We in the UNFCCC secretariat support the sovereignty convention of all States. However, we continue to stress that addressing climate change is the job of everyone and every industry, including yours. Article 12 spells out very clearly that everyone of us has the responsibility to implement the Agreement.”
Sarmad praised the airport sector for its carbon accreditation programme and the European net zero commitment. “I wish to applaud ACI for this bold and necessary action on climate change, which is an example to the rest of the aviation industry and to others.”
The travel and tourism sector was a “global economic powerhouse”, he said, and responsible for more than 10% of global GDP, with more and more people being able to fly to new destinations and visit family and friends, as well as creating jobs, most significantly in developing countries.
However, aviation emissions are growing fast, he added, with travel and tourism responsible for 8% of global emissions.
“Despite its significant economic and social benefit, the sector has no choice but to transform,” he said. “Aviation will need to find new technologies, find efficiencies where possible and come up with an effective offsetting system, which the sector is working on now – with some difficulty but there is a lot of hope.
“And with respect to new technologies and new fuels, is there good news on the horizon? If companies and industries fail to adjust, they will cease to exist.”
Sarmad said COP25 in Madrid had been a disappointment due to a lack of agreement on the guidelines for a “much-needed” carbon market and countries would need to up their ambition this year through enhanced nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
“The world faces a climate emergency and strong political decisions must be taken,” he said. “Ambition to address the emergency will be high on the agenda at COP26 and we will have to finish the work outstanding from Madrid.
“The challenge in 2020 for all policymakers, companies and individuals must be ambition beyond much of what we have already been doing. We have no more time to waste.”
Editor’s note: A further report on the conference will follow shortly.