The IPCC report and ICAO

The IPCC Report should act as a wake call to the aviation industry

It is just coincidence.  On the day that the IPCC report, calling for immediate action to tackle climate change, is published ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) is continuing its leisurely deliberations in Montreal to find a way to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation that is acceptable to the governments of the world.

ICAO, an arm of the United Nations specializing in aviation, moves at a snail-like pace.  It has been considering aviation emissions for years but still no recommendations.  Its latest round of deliberations has been prompted by the recent inclusion of aviation into the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme which would have hit all planes using European airports.  But, since most of the rest of the world refused to play ball, the EU suspended the scheme and everybody crawled back to ICAO for yet more negotiations.

The words “urgent” and “ICAO” have never really gone together but today’s IPCC Report suggests that ICAO needs to take lessons from Usain Bolt and get sprinting.  

The words “urgent” and “ICAO” have never really gone together but today’s IPCC Report suggests that ICAO needs to take lessons from Usain Bolt and get sprinting.  Aviation is set to become a serious obstacle to the worldwide community achieving the reductions in global warming gasses required to prevent runaway climate change.

The industry keeps quoting the figure that aviation only accounts tor 2% of worldwide emissions.  That figure is utterly misleading.  It emerged in the early 1990s since when the number of aircraft in the world’s skies has mushroomed.  Although aircraft are becoming cleaner, a more realistic figure is thought to be between 3.5% and 5%.  And in rich countries it is higher.  The worldwide average is only so low because so many people in poorer countries never set foot in an aeroplane.  According to the WorldWatch Institute, only 5% of the world’s population has ever flown:

But it is in the future that aviation will become the real culprit.  While every other industry believes it can find ways to cut its emissions, aviation will struggle.  This is not surprising since aviation is so dependent on oil.  But it means that aviation could account for 25% of UK emissions by 2050.  Worldwide, aviation emissions are set to triple by 2050.

Today’s IPCC Report should act as a wake-up call to the aviation industry.  It doesn’t mean the end of aviation as flying brings important cultural and economic benefits.  It ought to, though, focus minds on the tax-breaks aviation receives: tax-free fuel and VAT-free travel.  A sizeable proportion of flights are over short distances – for example 45% of flights within Europe are 450 kilometres or less.

Aviation emissions can be cut without crippling the industry.  The industry won’t do it of its own accord.  It needs Government action.  And fast.  That probably rules out the snail-like ICAO which will probably still be debating its next small step when half of Bangladesh lies under water.  Now there’s a thought:  shouldn’t ICAO move its meetings from Montreal to Dacca.  It may concentrate minds.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *