Flying Green – A Modest Industry Proposal
Opening address by Pierre Jeanniot, Chairman of the 16th World Air Transport Forum
Cannes, 17-19 October 2007 >>
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen
Je vous souhaite la plus cordiale des bienvenues. A very warm welcome to all of you to the 2007 World Air Transport Forum.
You will no doubt have noticed that we changed the name of this 16th annual industry get-together, but we have not changed the location as we believe it is essential that we continue to hold this historic event in one of the world’s great gastronomical capitals.
This Forum has always attempted to achieve the right balance between the stimulation of the intellect – and the pleasures of the pallet.
With this in mind, we have a great program lined up for you.
We are very impressed, and indeed highly honoured, that our speakers include so many of the leaders of the air transport industry.
Given the theme of the Forum and the potential impact of aviation on global warming, we thought of inviting Al Gore as a key speaker but we found out that one of the “inconvenient truths” about the former US Vice-President is that – even as an environmental advocate – is that he charges $175,000 for a 30-minute address – plus expenses.
In the interests of keeping the attendance fee for this Forum at a reasonable level, we decided to save you the expense.
Perhaps it’s just as well we couldn’t afford Al Gore. He’s not very popular in airline boardrooms these days.
The Emirate Airlines 2006/07 annual report describes An Inconvenient Truth as “regrettably persuasive but fundamentally misleading”.
I’m sure Timothy Clark, the President of Emirates Airline, will have more to say about the “Goring”, if you pardon the expression, of our industry during his presentation on Thursday morning.
Among the many claims made by air transport advocates recently to illustrate the progress made, you will undoubtedly have heard some of the following:
Flying a passenger today over a given distance requires 70% less fuel than it did 40 years ago.
The Stern report says that airlines account for only 1.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
No other industry has matched aviation’s achievements, or its investments in quieter and cleaner technology.
While aviation is responsible for less than 2% of greenhouse gas, it contributes 8% to the global GDP.
To rationalize as to why aviation is the undeserved whipping boy of global warming, it has been said that:
Politicians who want to be seen doing something about global warming find that airlines offer a suitable headline-grabbing target.
It’s a vendetta – a class war against the middle and upper classes. Those killjoy greens are trying to demonize the air travel and the package-holiday industries.
And then there would be some attempt by the air transport industry to divert attention by pointing a finger at other culprits, for instance by reminding everyone that:
Cows are responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, which is more than cars, planes, and all other forms of transport put together.
And computers generate around 2% of CO2 emissions worldwide – about the same as commercial aviation.
Perhaps now Greenpeace, which has criticized “binge travelling”, will go after “binge downloading”, and “binge texting”.
Now, as the debate goes on among the counter-claims made by the lobby groups which are trying to limit air travel, you will likely have heard the following:
The growth rate of air travel will considerably outstrip any improvements the industry could make in fuel efficiency – or traffic management – to bring down emissions.
While no one suggests that other polluters – cars, factories, power plants – are not much more important, aviation is coming under scrutiny because it appears to be growing relatively faster than those other sources.
The impact of air travel on climate change could be even greater than the CO2 figures suggest, because of other emissions such as nitrogen oxides (NOX), soot, and water vapour.
What is reality? What is fiction?
Let me suggest that the answer no longer matters.
For most of us, perception is reality.
Our industry is perceived to be a major polluter – and likely to become an even larger environmental menace in the future.
Whether we’re contributing 2%, 3% or 5% to global warming emissions, our industry is taking a 100% beating for it.
Noise used to be the biggest challenge, especially in communities that developed around airports – perhaps because the land was so affordable.
Technological progress in noise reduction has made it possible to virtually tip-toe a multi-ton aircraft down the runway.
New aircraft are 75% less noisy than the previous generation.
The debate over noise is largely over.
Conversely, the debate over fossil fuel consumption is getting louder all the time.
Unless we deny China and India standards of living approaching ours, forecast rates of fossil fuel consumption will lead to irreversible warming of the earth’s atmosphere – with catastrophic effects on health, food production, desertification, coastal sea levels, etc, etc.
The World Health Organization reports that air pollution deaths now exceed traffic fatalities – by three to one.
One third of the earth’s surface is at risk, as land turns to desert at a rate of about 4,000 square kilometres a year.
The search for non-carbon sources of future energy to replace, or supplement, today’s traditional carbon/based fuels must go on – and it must be accelerated.
I have not seen the film “An Inconvenient Truth”
Nor do I believe it is useful to boast about everything our industry has achieved in the past.
The debate started after most of the progress achieved had already been announced.
The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) recently created a website aimed at providing responses to environmental criticism against the airline industry.
The website is (quote) “a rebuttal process to respond to every statement made on aviation’s impact on the environment.”
Frankly, I have some doubt that such rebuttal will be very effective.
It may simply be perceived as more industry “green-washing”, so to speak.
It is time to face the fact that we do contribute to global warming, and to demonstrate that we are doing something about it – and that we are actively planning to do more.
The public wants to see action!
In a recent comic strip – I sometimes find the comic strips more informative than the business section – Dogbert “the green consultant” is telling Dilbert to try running his SUV into hybrid cars.
“That should stop them from using fuel altogether”, he says “You can’t save the earth unless you’re willing to make other people sacrifice”.
This Forum is a unique platform for providing all the major players of the air transport industry – airports, air traffic management agencies, airframe and engine manufacturers, distributors and, of course, the airlines – with a collective opportunity to respond to the environmental challenge.
IATA has recently suggested that the industry should have as a target to reach zero emission of greenhouse gasses within the next fifty years.
I am undecided as to whether we should consider this target as very bold – or simply very realistic, since by then we may have run out of fossil fuel anyway.
However, today we still do not have an overall consensus.
Attitudes to the environmental issue among industry executives vary significantly across the globe.
Some recognize it as a critical business issue.
Others dismiss it as irrelevant.
And I would think that credit should go to IATA for pushing climate change to the top of the agenda.
We are honoured to have the Director General of IATA as the first speaker tomorrow, and I am sure he will offer a spirited defence of his aspirational – if not universally inspirational – goal for our industry.
Taxes which disappear into a general fund simply destroy aviation’s economics and social benefits, with no appreciable gain for the environment.
They simply limit the industry’s ability to invest in new technologies.
Very high taxes may somewhat reduce travel demand, but they would also diminish the huge economic benefits that airlines and airports now represent – 8 percent contribution to the global GDP.
More to the point, trying to restrict air travel through taxation just doesn’t work.
Philippe Rochat, President of the Air Transport Action Group (ATAC) will be talking to us about counter-productive eco-taxes on Friday morning.
I am sure we can expect a strong rebuttal.
In free, progressive societies, people cannot be denied the liberty of buying what they want, and of travelling where they wish – whether by car, boar or plane.
If we cannot curb the desire for air travel, can we make it more “environmentally acceptable” – through such palliative measures as emissions trading?
In January, the European Commission (EC) put forth a proposal for emissions trading.
This proposal was, however, rejected by ICAO’s Tri-annual Assembly a few weeks ago.
Undeterred, the E.U. is planning to impose quotas on all flights entering or leaving its airspace from 2012.
U.S. airlines claim that bringing them into such a scheme would violate international law and urge that the industry wait for a global ICAO plan.
Asia-Pacific carriers do not see aircraft emissions as a major issue, and say that the region has many more important challenges.
Some airlines argue that carbon trading, like taxation, is nothing more than a big revenue generator for brokers and governments – with little money left for the environment.
As the Association of European Airlines (AEA) put it (quote) “For us the issue is how green can you be – before turning red?”
Eco-activists perceive trading as some sort of soft option for airlines, perhaps a cunning ruse for avoiding green taxes – and passing the buck to other sectors of the economy.
I believe that emissions trading can make some sense, provided it is open, properly designed, and universally applied.
Carbon trading can only be an interim solution because, eventually, everyone has to reduce carbon emissions.
The right cause is getting rid of CO2.
I will have more to say on that a little later.
I look forward to carbon trading receiving some attention during this Forum.
Much of the discussion will focus on the progress being made – and anticipated to be made – in each sector of the air transport industry in the more foreseeable future.
Everyone is taking the matter seriously.
The A380 and B787 have been said to be more efficient than a hybrid car – but hybrids still emit carbon.
Can these highly significant technological achievements be repeated in the next generation of airframes and power plants?
Not one aerospace manufacturer today would question the relevance of global warming to their long-range technological development, nor would they question the urgency with which the issue needs to be addressed.
Airbus is targeting a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, and a 80% lowering of NOx production for their new aircraft by 2020.
Boeing is working on a “blended wing” concept, which would theoretically offer huge gains in fuel efficiency.
The resulting design for such an airplane would look like a giant stealth fighter.
There are, however, some practical problems with the design.
Passengers would have to sit in long rows of seats – like in a cinema. “And when the aircraft banked to make a turn” writes Air Transport World “people at each end would feel as if they were in a giant roller coaster”.
Last July, Rolls-Royce launched a 95 million pound program to develop (quote) “an Environmentally Friendly Engine”.
The company now claims that even with today’s technology, a 50 percent reduction in fuel burn by 2020 is possible.
Not too long ago, it was targeting only a 10 percent further improvement within the next decade.
Un-ducted fan engines are getting lots of buzz these days as fuel savers – but that is hardly a new breakthrough in technology.
The concept is now again being pursued by GE and Rolls-Royce, but may result in an increase in noise levels which, in turn, may prove to be an unacceptable trade-off.
Many experts believe that there is a point where the benefits of taking incremental steps in fuel efficiency will simply vanish – or result in such unacceptable costs or trade-offs as to make the initial improvement not worthwhile.
How much further can airframe and engine manufacturers go?
Representatives from various airframe and engine manufacturers are here to tell us what they believe is possible.
Biofuels, some believe, may be one of the giant steps the industry needs to take to achieve a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.
Richard Branson is one such believer, and he has said that he intends to build plants to produce an environmentally friendly aviation fuel.
His Virgin Fuels subsidiary has formed a partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation, and Virgin Atlantic.
The partners have plans to carry out a joint biofuel demonstration using a Boeing 747-400 next year.
Biofuel produced from agricultural feedstock that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere is also a likely prospect because its life-cycle CO2 levels are barely half of jet fuel emissions.
It is not quite “carbon neutral” – but half a loaf is better than none.
The main drawback of commercially grown feedstock like soybean, corn, or rapeseed is the very large amount of crop acreage required.
Scientists calculate that it would take 6 million square kilometres – an area the size of Europe – to produce enough biofuel to totally replace jet fuel using soybeans.
Other options include biofuels derived from biomass sources such as sunflowers, saltwater plants, and cow manure.
But the most promising could be algae.
Recent research has shown that algae would do the same job – with only 35,000 square kilometres.
Not only do they absorb great quantities of carbon dioxide during their lifetime, but they are also a source of energy-rich oil that can also be turned into fuel.
Fuels, engines, and aircraft are all critical components of the air transport industry in its drive for sustainable development.
All offer good promises in the long term.
In the short term there are great opportunities for significant reductions in CO2 emissions by streamlining air traffic management.
I couldn’t put it more succinctly than my colleague Giovanni Bisignani who said at the Vancouver IATA meeting (quote) “Cut air traffic inefficiency in half by 2012 and we immediately save 35 million tons of CO2”.
Three fairly well-identified projects could deliver real results: a Single Sky for Europe; an efficiently co-ordinated and integrated air traffic control operation for the Pearl River Delta in China; and the implementation of the next generation air traffic system in the U.S.
The Single European Sky alone could deliver a 12-million ton reduction in CO2.
But governments are dragging their feet.
We have seen a 15-year European circus of talks, talks, and more talks – with no significant results.
A European Single Sky is technically feasible within five years, but would require strong political will and leadership.
European Transport Ministers have now agreed to set up a public-private consortium to fund and carry out research on the project.
The aim is to implement it by 2020.
The Director General of Eurocontrol, Victor Aguado, is one of our speakers and we look to him to shed some light on this complex, most worthwhile and long-awaited project.
I am not going to say very much about the role of airlines and airports in getting our industry to achieve a level of sustainable development.
Although they are the most visible targets, airlines and airports have a lot less control over aviation’s contribution to global warming than they are given credit for!
Acquiring new, fuel-efficient airplanes, and planning routes which provide weather-friendly flight paths and minimize fuel consumption are major areas where airlines have leverage in reducing greenhouse emissions.
Last year, the airlines – working with the various air traffic management authorities – were able to optimise 350 routes, resulting in 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide savings.
Beyond that, the airlines have been busy implementing a number of incremental saving measures such as starting engines only once clearance is given, reducing weight by using lighter catering equipment, carrying blankets only on long-haul flights and even switching from paper to electronic magazines.
While the proportion of industry emissions over which airports have direct control is very small, many have come up with innovative projects to reduce their carbon footprint.
Dallas-Fort Worth, for example, has captured and treated 5 million pounds of spent aircraft de-icing fuel, and converted all of its bus and shuttle fleet to alternative fuels over the past five years – thus reducing its emissions by some 95 percent.
There is an impressive participation at this Forum of airline CEOs, Director Generals of Airline Associations and of Airport Associations, as well as senior executives of airports. I am sure these distinguished personalities will have much more to say on the subject.
Until some new form of CO2 emission-free propulsion becomes available, we must look for additional ways of stabilizing – if not beginning to reduce – our CO2 footprint, despite having to meet the continued growth in travel demand.
Our ability to reduce CO2 emission by improvements in air traffic control is not negligible – but it is finite.
Renewing our fleets with the latest fuel-efficient aircraft and engines is significant but will only take us so far; and the switch to less damaging biofuel will only produce incremental improvements.
Carbon trading, far from being universally accepted, is at best a short-term expediency – it is certainly not a longer term solution.
The airlines know they need to do more, and several have announced programs to allow passengers to offset emissions by investing in renewable energy.
British Airways, SAS, Lufthansa, KLM, Delta and Air Canada have all joined the contest to determine who has the best eco-credentials, and thus deserving of the title “airline eminence green”
Passenger response so far to carbon offsetting has been rather modest.
Surveys show that travellers seem willing to pay extra for green holidays, at least at first.
But while such programs generated favourable initial interest from passengers, their popularity generally fades for a number of reasons:
Individual companies’ schemes are perceived as being much too small to make a difference, lack credibility, or finance projects of dubious benefit.
One critic has compared these proposals to the medieval practice of the selling of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church to pardon sinners.
Given this situation, what alternatives do we really have?
I have a modest proposal to help airlines and the flying public to substantially contribute towards offsetting their carbon footprint.
I believe that there is an urgent need for a massive effort to de-carbonize our planet’s atmosphere by storing and/or destroying CO2.
And that the air transport world should exert leadership in bringing about major improvement programs.
Almost all climate experts believe that only large reforestation projects could offer an appreciable reduction in greenhouse gasses.
Let me suggest a major reforestation project which could capture the imagination of our industry and rally the support – and the enthusiasm – of the flying public.
Such a project would need to be large enough for our industry as a whole to make a significant reduction in its carbon footprint. It could become the industry’s main environmental contribution.
The Sahel is the boundary zone in Africa between the Sahara to the north and a more fertile region to the south.
It runs some 5000 kilometres, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Horn of Africa.
It is primarily a region of semi-arid grasslands and thorn savannah.
Major droughts in 1914 and 1968 through 1974 caused large-scale famines when the grazing became unsustainable.
Few regions of the world are more in need – and deserving – of a world-wide project that would be of specific benefit to some of the most disadvantaged countries in the world – Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan – among others.
Improving the life of those populations would be of universal benefit to all mankind.
The barren landscape of the Sahel is not much different from the situation faced by the settlers who transformed an area of Israel into a lush and fertile micro-climate.
It is most impressive to see how a forest which they planted a few decades ago – in a previously totally barren land – has indeed transformed the region.
If we were to set ourselves the objective of creating a forest – some 10 kilometres wide, the length of the Sahel – we would, in time, have created a forest of 50,000 square kilometres, or 5 million hectares.
Forests are the world’s largest carbon sink – huge breathing lungs that take in carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen.
They are the very life of our planet.
Given that one hectare of mature forest removes approximately 400 tons of CO2 per year, our forest could absorb some 2.0 billion tons of CO2 a year.
But even if we were to achieve only 50% of that level of carbon absorption, it would still be a rather impressive contribution!
The greening of the Sahel may seem to you like an overly ambitious project for our industry to undertake.
Some might call it “Eco-excessive”
How feasible is such a project – and what would it cost?
A feasibility study would need to be carried out to determine whether there is enough ground water deep down in the Sahel region which could be pumped up to irrigate the forest
Or whether one would need to contemplate huge desalination plants on the Atlantic Coast and the Red Sea to feed equally huge pipelines across the land.
I would not venture an estimate of what such a project would cost, but instead it would be easier to estimate how much money could be made available.
Let me assume that it was agreed that every air passenger was willing to make an Eco-contribution of 2.0 euros per domestic flight or 8.0 euros per international flight.
With the volume of yearly passenger traffic approaching 1.5 billion, of which the international portion represents approximately one-third, the amount generated annually would be
(2.0)(1.0 billion) + (8.0)(0.5B) = 6 billion euros
And that is without counting in any contribution from corporate and private aircraft, which surely should also be made to contribute.
An agreement would have to be reached with each Sahel country to allow a strip of land 10 kilometres wide to be set aside on their northern border for forest planting.
The sovereignty of those countries over that land would naturally remain strictly unaltered, but each would agree to treat that area as a protected region – like a national park.
What body should be asked – or created – to administer such a project?
The U.N. is too bureaucratic and politicised to be an efficient instrument to manage these types of projects.
But perhaps a U.N. Agency, or an affiliate such as ICAO, could assist in setting up the kind of international agreement which should exist with each country of the Sahel.
Should the air transport industry wish to move ahead on this or any other global environmental project, it would be my recommendation that a new, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation be set up to administer it.
This new NGO would be guided by Board of Directors representing all the key stakeholders of our industry, which would ensure full accountability and transparency.
And this Forum could be an appropriate occasion for the new NGO to report annually its progress and plans.
While this is not the time to expand further on this proposal, I simply wanted to illustrate that – working together – this industry and its travelling public, through quite modest contributions, could make available vast sums of money to finance global environmental projects.
Ladies and gentlemen, whether or not we are close to achieving a global consensus on the amount and impact of CO2 on global warming, the concerns over the environment have most certainly been accelerating.
Projects to harness and develop less polluting sources of energy have been multiplying everywhere.
This proposal for a huge, aviation-financed forest is based on the belief that the best way to offset carbon emission is to use nature itself.
Re-planting a forest could be done anywhere in the world – anywhere where an opportunity would make sense and climatic benefits could be gained.
My suggestion of the Sahel would have the obvious, additional impact of providing substantial benefits to the local population.
The central fact about global climate change is that every individual on Earth is in some way part of the problem.
The corollary is that everyone on Earth has to be, in some way, part of the solution.
Ladies and gentlemen, our industry is being accused of not doing its fair share in addressing the foremost challenge of the 21st century.
I look forward to this Forum to demonstrate that our industry has a deep concern for the environment, and that it is indeed actively engaged in doing more than its fair share.
The history of this industry has shown that it has met very successfully the many challenges it had to face in the past.
I expect our response to this environmental challenge to be no less successful.
Using nature as an ally to absorb CO2 in sufficient quantities such that we would totally offset our future emission seems to me, at least, a great deal more feasible – and more manageable- than deciding to send a man to the moon before we even knew if it was technically feasible.
So, why not re-forest the Sahel?