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.”


INTERVIEW: ‘We were built for times like this’, Johnson & Johnson exec Marzena Kulis says of company’s role in fighting pandemics

Updated 20 September 2020

INTERVIEW: ‘We were built for times like this’, Johnson & Johnson exec Marzena Kulis says of company’s role in fighting pandemics

  • 134-year firm searches for a vaccine while tackling other regional medical issues

Being a senior executive at a medical company during the most serious health care crisis for a century puts you at the sharp end of events, as Marzena Kulis, managing director of the medical products business of Johnson & Johnson in the Middle East, is well aware.

“We were built for the times like this. We are a company with a 134-year legacy.

“We lived through the previous pandemics of smallpox and Spanish flu, and through the financial crises, through world wars, and our business has expanded and grown,” she told Arab News.

“But it would be wrong to say that what happened in the past few months had no impact on the local, regional and global businesses,” she added.

J&J, a multibillion-dollar giant of the global health care industry, has been in the region for more than 40 years, operating via the three pillars of its business — medical devices, pharmaceuticals and consumer products.

But there is no doubt that the company’s profile has been lifted during the pandemic through its work on a potential vaccine. J&J is one of several international companies working flat out to develop a treatment since virtually the first outbreak earlier this year. 

Kulis, an economist by training who has spent almost her entire career in the health care sector, has seen that at first hand in recent months.

“I think our teams globally have been working tirelessly, without a break really, on finding the solutions and, as of now, we are saying that large quantities of the vaccine will be available in the first quarter of 2021,” she said.

“In September, we are planning to begin phase three trials on humans, which will be on a large number of the populations chosen for the trials, but we still believe that it will be early 2021 when we will be able to deliver the vaccine,” she added. Some health experts have criticized the tendency toward “vaccine nationalism” by some countries, eager to be first with a treatment in an international race, or to keep supplies of the medicine for their own people, rather than spreading it equably around the world.

“We are open to discussion with everyone,” Kulis said, pointing to agreements J&J has signed with the US and European authorities on vaccine collaboration, as well as with international organizations such as the GAVI immunization agency supported by many countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.

J&J also signed up for the “We Stand with Science” campaign to uphold the integrity of the medical scientific process in vaccine development and global regulatory standards.

Kulis is aware of the pressure to produce a vaccine “cure,” but believes safety is paramount. “Although we all would like it to be available tomorrow, the process has to take its time to ensure there are high ethical standards and scientific principles,” she said.

Meanwhile, while the world waits for a vaccine, Kulis has a business to run in the Middle East. The medical devices business in the region includes surgical equipment, and orthopedics and cardiovascular procedures — all affected by the heightened focus on COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic.

In particular, some elective surgeries have been pushed to the back of the queue by patients understandably anxious to protect their health during the pandemic. Lockdowns and economic pressure have also had an effect.


BIO

Born: Krakow, Poland

Education

  • Master’s, Krakow Economic Academy
  • MBA, Stockholm University

Career

  • HD operations officer, World Bank 
  • Executive for Pfizer, Poland and Balkan countries
  • Managing director, Johnson & Johnson, Middle East

“The UAE has restored or reopened some surgeries, but Saudi Arabia is still taking a bit more time reopening for elective surgeries, with the exception of some parts of the country. So, obviously, that has an impact,” Kulis said.

The financials of the business were better than expected in the second quarter, although still some way off what they would have been without the virus. One real positive is that the J&J global supply chain has remained intact, she said.

Kulis’ job gives her a unique insight into the medical problems of the region, and one issue stands out, she says — obesity and its associated complications. J&J sees the extent of the problem in its bariatrics specialism, which deals with the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity.

“This region is leading the obesity prevalence in the world and we provide medical solution for that as well,” she said, pointing out that three of the top five most obese countries in the world in terms of obesity incidence as a proportion of the population are from the Middle East.

Oncological and gynecological surgery is also a growing part of her division in Saudi Arabia. 

In orthopedics, Kulis said with a hint of humor, “the world has been walking on our knees and our hips for decades.” But there is also an important link to obesity, too, she said, because overweight people are likely to face greater mobility challenges.

“Sooner or later, as a consequence of obesity, people require joint replacement or some other orthopedic intervention,” she said.

The third segment of the medical devices unit is also affected by obesity problems. The cardiovascular and stroke speciality focuses on remedies for heart arrythmia and stroke management.

“We’re still raising the awareness of availability of the surgical treatment for those two. It’s especially important to show that stroke is not a death or disability sentence but can be treated. People can be brought to mobility and quality of life,” Kulis said.

J&J sees as another increasing problem for Saudi Arabia — the treatment of traumatic injuries from traffic accidents.

“It’s really prevalent and a strong focus in Saudi Arabia. The treatment of road accident trauma is part of our orthopedic business. Road accidents are an important part of our work in the Kingdom,” she said.

Overall, the health benefits of Saudi Arabia’s young demographic is, to some extent, outweighed by obesity and other lifestyle issues, she said.

The Kingdom is a focus for expansion for J&J. It opened a headquarters office in Riyadh in 2017, and also has bases in Jeddah and Dammam, serving as a base not only for the medical devices business but also the consumer and pharmaceuticals units. There are about 180 employees in the Kingdom, of whom roughly 40 percent are citizens.

“We have made a conscious effort to ensure we can build up local capacity and help the local population to work with us,” she said. J&J has a local Saudi partner, takes part in official programs to promote health and lifestyle issues within the Kingdom, and has a joint flagship program with the Prince Sultan Humanitarian City Hospital. 

The health sector has been earmarked for greater private sector participation in the Vision 2030 plans to diversify the Kingdom away from the government-dominated energy sector, and J&J is keen to take advantage of any opportunities in that respect.

“We are always exploring the option for enhancement of the business and definitely Saudi is our priority market. 

We haven’t been in any discussions regarding takeover or merger activity so far, but if there are opportunities, we will put it forward to our senior management. We are looking at any opportunity to strengthen our footprint in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Kulis’s responsibilities at J&J cover the medial needs of 500 million people in 16 countries stretching from Pakistan to Egypt. But she is keen not to lose sight of the importance of individual cases within the many thousands of patients that benefit from J&J products and procedures every year.

“What keeps me up at night is this question — how can we grow the scale of the business so that we can help more patients get treatment at the right time?

“We all know the stories of people and the families who don’t get care on time, or who wait too long for treatment. I want to shape my organization so that we can share the same dream of preventing that,” she said.