In the battle against climate change, trust and co-operation between aviation and its detractors will be important says Michael Gill, Director, Aviation Environment.

The aviation and climate debate has hit fever-pitch in the media in recent months. In Europe in particular, the coverage of the “flight-shame” movement has been out of proportion to the actual support it has received.

IATA’s research into the attitudes of passengers has shown that there are a large number of concerned travelers who want to fly, but are worried about climate change and want to be reassured that the industry is doing all it can to be sustainable. Those are legitimate concerns.

As far as aviation is concerned, we remain focused on our long-term goal to reduce CO2 to half of 2005 levels by 2050. This would keep us in line with the Paris Agreement target of holding global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees. 

A lot of work is ongoing to put in place interim milestones which will give us a better idea of cumulative emissions growth and reduction during this period. We are not aware of any other global business sector that has set itself such a tough goal. 

And unlike other industries (automotive, for example) which can move to electric and pass responsibility for emissions to the power sector, aviation has no immediate option to dispense with liquid fuels.

Unlike other industries (automotive, for example), aviation has no immediate option to dispense with liquid fuels

This is why the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which could ultimately reduce emissions by up to 80%, is so important. SAF, along with continued improvements to efficiency of engines and airframes and the hoped-for improvements to inefficient air traffic control routes, will help us achieve our goals.

We accept that, for a number of people, our targets do not go far enough, fast enough. That’s why we are continually pushing the industry and our partners to do more. For example, all the available SAF is already being used.

If governments were serious about their climate rhetoric, they would be putting in place a framework to encourage production. Calling for stronger government action on practical measures (rather than ineffective taxes) is an area where perhaps the industry and environmental NGOs could find some common ground.

We understand that some people are suspicious of SAFs, but airlines have committed not to use any fuel source for SAF that would degrade biodiversity. And we are working on strict ecological standards for SAF, through ICAO and in partnership with NGOs. 

The emergence of the “no-fly” movement is focusing on trying to persuade people it is better to travel by other means or maybe not to travel abroad at all, or only rarely. To hold such beliefs is the privilege of those in free and prosperous societies. 

But a world with such restricted travel opportunities would be poorer and less tolerant, while the impact of not flying on climate change would be negligible. The majority of future flyers are not coming from the West, where journey numbers per person is close to peaking, but from developing economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Why should these people be denied the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of air travel? 

Our enemy is not travel – it is CO2. So our challenge is to find the fastest, most practical way to reduce our CO2 impact so that we can to enable these people to fly sustainably. It is a challenge that aviation embraces. And it is one that together, we must and will solve.