How aviation is fighting climate change

Expert on environmental impact of flying interviewed
Finnish airport operator Finavia recently interviewed the executive director of the Geneva-based Air Transport Action Group about the environmental impact of flying and the industry’s recent climate agreement.
Last October, the industry struck a global deal in Montréal that former US Secretary of State John Kerry described as ”unprecedented”. It seeks to cap emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels, regardless of the future growth of air travel. Air travel accounts for about 2% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Michael Gill, executive director of the Air Transport Action Group, a non-profit association representing the international air transport industry, visited Finland to talk about the agreement. Here is Finavia’s interview in full.
What is the aviation industry doing to fight climate change?
“The industry has set ambitious goals for reducing and offsetting its carbon emissions. Our long-term target is to halve emissions from international aviation by 2050, and to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards.
The short-term goal has been to improve aircraft fuel efficiency by 1.5% yearly, which the industry has been very successful at so far.
The industry has different methods to reach these goals: developing new technology and more efficient operations and infrastructure as well as market-based measures like carbon offsetting.”
What did the governments agree on in Montréal, and why is it so significant?
“The agreement is called CORSIA, a global Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. The goal is to cap emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels. As air travel has been estimated to grow by 700% by 2050, this goal is really ambitious.
Aircraft operators in the countries participating in the scheme must offset CO2 emissions that exceed the level outlined for 2020 – on routes between two participating countries. They can do this by purchasing emissions units on an international carbon market. The agreement is voluntary until 2027. However, already 66 countries have signed up, among others the United States, China and most of Europe, including Finland.
CORSIA is a huge step in the right direction. It’s the first time an international industry has been able to reach a global and binding climate agreement.”
Finland, especially Neste, has been in the forefront of developing renewable fuels. How do you see the role of renewables in reducing aviation’s climate impacts?
“We at ATAG believe that alternative fuels will be the true game changer when we look at long-term development toward 2050. At the moment, there’s no longer technical barriers for renewables becoming the norm, but the issue is commercial. How do we create market conditions and policy frameworks that make it economically viable for airlines to fly on alternative fuels?”
What should every passenger know about the environmental impacts of flying?
“Our fundamental message is that international aviation has great economic and social benefits for the world. We want to fly, and continue to make the world a smaller, more accessible place.
At the same time, the aviation industry has realized its impacts on the environment and is working to reduce them. There have already been great advances, for instance in making aircraft 50% more fuel efficient since the 1990s. Now, we continue to work on reducing our environmental impacts, and the new climate agreement is a great example of this.”

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