Aviation Targets 'Carbon Neutral Growth' But Can It Do More?

Aviation Targets 'Carbon Neutral Growth' But Can It Do More?

The international aviation industry has committed to “carbon neutral growth” by 2020, which would allow the sector to grow without increasing its carbon footprint.

The board of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) voted Sunday to pursue the target and improve fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5 percent per year, Giovanni Bisignani, IATA CEO and director general, said in a speech Monday at the World Air Transport Summit in Malaysia.
But the industry can't achieve this alone, Bisignani said. He called on world governments to get serious about investing in aviation biofuels, calling current funding “peanuts.” 

“We are showing the way with carbon neutral growth,” Bisignani said in his prepared remarks. “The industry is a role model for others to follow. The challenge will be for governments to catch up.”

A small group of airlines, however, has developed a proposal that includes emissions reduction targets that are more aggressive than the carbon neutral growth scenario.

The Aviation Global Deal Group (AGD), whose members include Air France, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, has proposed three emissions targets for U.N. negotiators to consider for the post-Kyoto climate change treaty. The group wants aviation to be included in the treaty rather than a patchwork approach with regional regulations and fees.

The AGD proposal includes three 2020 emissions reduction scenarios: carbon neutral growth; 5 percent below 2005 levels; and 20 percent below 2005 levels. The targets are based on the views of industry, governments and NGOs on how much the sector can contribute to the climate change fight.

The AGD advocates selling some of the emissions permits at auction to raise as much as $5 billion annually for climate change efforts in developing countries, such as for adaptation and forestry initiatives. Not everyone agrees with this approach, including the CEO of the U.S. Air Transport Association, who would rather see the money redirected back to the aviation industry.

Aviation is responsible for about 2 percent of global emissions.

The industry’s carbon footprint will shrink this year by 5 percent because of the global economic recession, Bisignani said. Efficiency efforts will further trim emissions another 2 percent, he estimated.

To help the sector reduce its impacts, the IATA wants nations to modernize traffic management, give it unlimited access to carbon offsets to meet its emissions reduction goals, and regulate and impose price ceilings on carbon markets. It has set a target of increasing biofuels use to 10 percent of all consumption by 2017.  Biofuels, Bisignani said, have the potential to reduce the industry’s footprint by up to 80 percent.

Several airlines have conducted biofuels test flights for more than a year, beginning with a February 2008 Virgin Airlines flight where one engine used fuel made from coconuts and Brazilian babassu nuts.

But many point to the potential of a smarter and more efficient air traffic control system that produces shorter, faster and safer flights. On Thursday, American Airlines will test several procedures to gauge fuel savings, such as single-engine taxi, continuous climate out and descent, and optimized routing over water.

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