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.”


Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

Updated 06 August 2020

Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

  • Beirut port devastation brings warnings of housing crisis and billion-dollar hit to exports, imports

BEIRUT: Lebanon could face a repair bill of up to $15 billion in the aftermath of a cataclysmic chemical blast at Beirut port, according to a top government adviser.

The explosion, which was felt as far away as Cyprus, killed at least 100 people, wounded thousands and left an additional 300,000 Beirut residents homeless. 

It is thought to have been caused by nearly three tons of ammonium nitrate, a common agricultural fertilizer, that was confiscated in 2013 and improperly stored in warehouses. But after months of economic misery, the collapse of the currency and mounting civil unrest, it is being seen as the consequence of years of neglect, financial mismanagement and corruption as across the country.

Charbel Cordahi, an economist and financial adviser to the president, estimated the cost of damages from the explosion, including compensation, at around $15 billion. 

“Up to 70 percent of Lebanon’s trade channels through the port of Beirut,” he told Arab News.

“Airports and other ports in the country can facilitate only 30-40 percent of this trade, and opening the borders with Syria can facilitate another 20 percent. This means that at least $5 billion of imports will not find their way to the country, and another $2 billion of exports will stay on ground in the coming eight months. This represents a loss of around $4 billion, or 15 percent of gross domestic product,” he said.

He added that without an international aid program, “Lebanon cannot face this disaster.”

The explosion caps months of misery for the Lebanese, nearly half of whom now live below the poverty line. Popular anger directed at the government and political classes has swelled as a wider economic crisis has been made worse by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts to assess the damage at Beirut port, the country’s main trade gateway, are already underway. The second priority will be to restore food security and ensure the country does not run out of wheat after grain silos were destroyed, while also making sure residents who have lost their homes are rehoused as quickly as possible. Maintaining medical supplies and mitigating the environmental impact will also be a priority for city chiefs.

Many residents of the city are unable to return to their homes, even if their buildings remain visibly intact, because of the potential structural damage caused by the 4.5 Richter-scale blast.

“We need other countries to help us reconstruct Beirut,” Gen. Mohammed Kheir, secretary general of the Higher Relief Council, told Arab News. “We would be grateful if each country rebuilt a street or neighborhood in Beirut, like they did following the 2006 Israeli aggression. That would be the best way.”

He also appealed for emergency prefab homes for families for whom the government may not be able to provide housing.

Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud, who estimated the primary damage at $3-$5 billion, appealed to the international community and the Lebanese diaspora to help.

Health officials had told Arab News that the country was running low on medical equipment, especially items needed for major surgery, and hoped that aid from abroad would fill the gap.

It is still too early to assess the full environmental impact of the blast, but environmental expert Mostapha Raad said a potentially bigger catastrophe may have been averted when the wind carried away a toxic cloud filled with nitric acid away from land and toward open sea.

“We were afraid the ammonium nitrate residue would lead to cooling off the weather and causing acidic rain, but according to tests on air samples, the result was green and the cloud disappeared over the sea,” he said.