Environment: The need for a unified front

Web Kati Ihamäki, Finnair.jpgEarlier this week, I caught up with Finnair vice-president for sustainable development Kati Ihamaki in London (in the midst of a hotel evacuation, but that’s another story!).

Coincidentally, our meeting happened just as BA made a dramatic pledge on behalf of IATA to slash carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050 and to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards.

This fits in nicely with Kati’s call for a more unified approach to environmental matters. During our chat Kati, who is a member of IATA’s environment committee, urged for a “sectoral”, rather than “patchwork” approach to emissions trading.

Kati gives an example to illustrate her point. If a Chinese airline spends a long length of time flying over Russia to get to Europe, why should the carrier pay environmental charges in Europe and give nothing to Russia? A fair point.

“If we don’t move along with others, there will be a patchwork of different systems,” she says, adding that there are high hopes that the principles of a global solution will be discussed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December. “Maybe in two years [a universal system] could be in place, by 2013. It needn’t take too long.”

Kati says much is hanging on the Copenhagen talks. “After that either the industry will move together or take different steps. That’s why everyone is holding back at the moment.”

But the Finnair executive believes there is a danger that “the politics of the day”, i.e. emissions trading, are taking second place to operational measures with potential for real environmental benefits, such as the Single European Sky project.

It is a matter of political will, explains Kati. The Single European Sky is still going to take some time, while emissions trading is a political talking point.

She also would like to see money from schemes like emissions trading channelled back into environmental R&D for the aviation industry, as well as to poorer nations to encourage them to get involved.

On the subject of biofuels, Kati is a firm believer in second generation products and is currently extremely interested in the potential of fuels derived from forestry residue.

“I’m really positive about that and the discussions which we have had with different companies are really encouraging. Forestry residue – that’s the main ingredient which we are talking about with some suppliers – we’ll see.”

But supply issues still remain. Even if Finnair is able to get enough biofuel in Finland, Kati questions what the airline would do to fuel aircraft down route.

For the low-down on how airlines are preparing for the start of emissions trading, take a look at this report which ran in our September print edition.

Want to recap on the basics? Here’s our emissions trading low-down.

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