Pressure mounts on aviation industry over climate change

It’s estimated that air transport is responsible for two percent of global CO2 emissions. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 June 2019

Pressure mounts on aviation industry over climate change

  • In recent months climate activists have stepped up efforts to convince travelers to boycott air travel
  • The industry has been under fire over its carbon emissions

PARIS: Under pressure from frequent flyers alarmed over climate change, the airline industry says it is “hellbent” on reducing emissions — but the technology needed to drastically reduce its carbon footprint is still out of reach.
In recent months climate activists have stepped up efforts to convince travelers to boycott air travel, with Swedish schoolgirl and campaigner Greta Thunberg spearheading the trains-over-planes movement and making “flygskam,” or flight shame, a buzzword in the Scandinavian country.
“The sector is under considerable pressure,” admitted Alexandre de Juniac, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose members met this week in Seoul.
The industry has been under fire over its carbon emissions, which at 285 grams of CO2 emitted per kilometer traveled by a passenger far exceed all other modes of transport. Road transportation follows at 158 and rail travel is at 14, according to European Environment Agency figures.
De Juniac said the industry was “hellbent” on lowering emissions but the sector is also accused of underestimating its environmental impact, with the IATA chief lobbying heavily against a “green tax” on aviation backed by several countries including the Netherlands.
“Often these taxes are absorbed in the budgets of states and are spent on whatever they want, except the environment,” he said.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates that air transport is responsible for two percent of global CO2 emissions — roughly equivalent to the overall emissions of Germany, according to consulting firm Sia Partners.
But aircraft also emit particles such as nitrogen oxides, which can trap heat at high altitude, meaning the industry is actually responsible for five percent of global warming, according to the Climate Action Network, an umbrella group of environmental NGOs.
The industry has committed to improving fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent per year from 2009 to 2020 and stabilising its CO2 emissions in preparation for a 50 percent reduction by 2050 compared to 2005.
It is a major challenge given that the number of passengers is expected to double over the next two decades to reach 8.2 billion in 2037.
Companies are banking on a new generation of less polluting planes with updated engines, aerodynamic modifications and fittings that weigh less — among them tablets to replace heavy pilot manuals.
However Shukor Yusof, analyst with Malaysia-based Endau Analytics, told AFP the industry had made progress but “that all these technological advances to cut emissions are tough to implement quickly due to the nature of the industry hemmed by high costs and the fact that planes typically take decades before they are replaced.”
Philippe Plouvier, associate director of consulting firm Boston Consulting Group in Paris, said “the constant renewal of the fleet is a major part of it (cutting emissions),” explaining that the latest models of large aircraft reduce CO2 by 20 to 25 percent.
“But that only solves around 30 percent of the problem,” he said. The rest, he added, can only be resolved by developing sustainable biofuels or turning to electric power — technology which is currently impractical.
Several airlines have begun testing biofuels but production costs remain high and industry experts do not believe electric engines will be rolled out commercially for another two decades.
“Batteries today are still too big and heavy to be used as the main source of power for aircraft,” said Leithen Francis, managing director of Singapore-based aviation public relations agency Francis & Low.
“Aircraft today take off heavy — because the aircraft is carrying a full load of fuel — but then then the aircraft uses up its fuel during the flight and lands light.
“Aircraft powered by batteries will take off heavy and then have to land heavy, so developing aircraft that can do that — without having a hard landings or causing structural damage to the airframe — will be a challenge,” Francis told AFP.
The ICAO says better management of air traffic can help and a new generation of more fuel-efficient plane designs is predicted within five or ten years.
But time is not on the aviation industry’s side.
A landmark UN report last year concluded that CO2 emissions must drop 45 percent by 2030 — and reach “net zero” by 2050 — if the rise in Earth’s temperature is to be checked at the safer limit of 1.5C.
Plouvier of the Boston Consulting Group said to meet the 2050 goal, the aviation industry “must start today and very quickly.”


Saudi G20 faces up to global challenges

Updated 4 min 34 sec ago

Saudi G20 faces up to global challenges

  • Riyadh summit’s top three priorities will be empowerment, environment and tech change, minister tells Davos

DAVOS: The G20 summit to be held in Saudi Arabia later this year will help the world resolve some of its biggest challenges in geopolitics, climate change and social issues, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, the Kingdom’s finance minister, told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos. 

“Fortunately, the world is becoming more connected as well, and that means we can think about solutions through consensus,” he said at a special session on the Kingdom’s strategic priorities ahead of the G20. 

Al-Jadaan said that the top three priorities for the summit were empowerment, the environment and technological change. 

“We have to continue empowering people — women, young people, small- business people,”
he said. 

Another big priority was “protecting planet Earth, and at the centre of that is climate change,” but the “most ambitious” was the search for “new frontiers in technology and innovation that is shaping the world,” he said. 

G20 summits in the past have played a big role in stabilizing global financial systems, especially during the crisis of 2009. Al-Jadaan said that would be a “very significant element” of the Saudi presidency, and he highlighted sustainable growth, debt vulnerabilities and the prospect of digital taxation as three financial focal points for the Riyadh G20 Summit. 

Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia was not a newcomer to the G20. “We have been involved for some time, and that is in recognition of the Kingdom being a vital part of the modern world,” he said. 

He added that the Saudi energy industry — Saudi Aramco being the biggest oil company in the world — played a key role in the global economy and was therefore a crucial member of the G20. “There is only one country in the world that has excess capacity in the oil market, and that is being used to mitigate the problems we face from wars, conflict and disasters.” 

Davos delegates also heard that women in Saudi Arabia had gender equality with men in the workplace after recent advances in employment across the country. 

Iman Al-Mutairi, assistant minister for commerce and investment, said that the Kingdom was the top performer in a recent World Bank survey of employment and that it had reached the average global level of gender equality. “We have gender equality now. Women can be builders, welders, fireman and lots of other professions. We are serious about inclusiveness,” she said. 

Al-Mutairi was speaking at a special session of the WEF on the strategic priorities of the Kingdom 

She said that the progress made by Saudi Arabia sent a strong message to the Arab and Islamic world about Saudi Arabia’s modernization plans, but more remained to be done. “We have to keep reskilling women, especially in finance, artificial intelligence and other STEM subjects. 

“Saudi Arabia has to act immediately and spread this ‘good virus’ to our neighbors,” she added. 

Other Saudi members of the top level panel reinforced her comments about importance of inclusion as an element of the G20 agenda. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, the Kingdom’s minister of economy, said that making progress towards the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) would also be a big priority. “Every one of the 17 SDGs is addressed in the G20 agenda. We want the summit to take action and be practical,” he said. 

He was uncertain whether the world could meet all of the SDGs by the target date of 2030, though. “We will achieve a lot by 2030, but much depends on how other global institutions deal with policymaking and financial aspects of the SDG targets,” he said. 

Abdullah Alswaha, the Kingdom’s minister for communications and information technology, said that the biggest challenge of the G20 presidency was with regard to new technology.

“How do we make sure that artificial intelligence and new technology acts in the interest of human kind?” he asked, adding that the digital world was a major potential source of employment. 

The digital world was also a “social equalizer, but the analog world is polarized, so it needs to come together in the digital world.”  

Al-Swaha highlighted the need for cyber-resilience in modern technology. “In a few years’ time quantum computers will be able to decrypt most of the encryption mechanism that are in place today,” he said. 

Prince Abdul Aziz said that the environment remained a top priority for the Saudi energy industry. “We have to provide energy for the world, and still deal with climate change. If we’re going to be good G20 hosts, we have to have ideas and suggestions on these issues.” 

He added that the G20 would highlight the role of the energy industry in reducing harmful emissions and utilizing the potential for carbon capture technologies. It would also showcase the Neom mega-project, and its emphasis on renewable energy and hydrogen fuels, as well as developments in climate-friendly fuels. 

Al-Jadaan said the success of the G20 would be judged according to how it implemented existing policy initiatives, advanced new concepts being developed in the Kingdom, and showcased Saudi Arabia as a destination for tourists and business visitors.