Carbon neutral growth plan faces huge challenges

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Carbon offsets may be needed if IATA is to meet its goal of achieving carbon neutral growth in the airline industry by 2020, Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) executive director Paul Steele admitted today.

Speaking at the ATAG Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva, Steele stuck by the targets set out by IATA in 2008, but stressed that each one "demands a huge amount of cooperation and collaboration", and "a lot more needs to be done" if the goals are to stand a chance of becoming reality.

In addition to achieving carbon neutral growth from 2020, IATA aims to improve fuel efficiency in the airline industry by 1.5% per annum between 2010 and 2020, and reduce emissions by 50% over 2005 levels by 2050.

While noting that biofuels "have the potential to reduce the industry's carbon footprint by 80%", Steele admits that the necessary scaling up and commercialisation of alternative fuels remains "a big challenge". He concedes that "we may need offsets to help reach the 2020 carbon neutral growth target".

The airline industry is also facing political pressure to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions in the short-term. "Time is not on our side. To address global climate change effectively, we also need to see significant emission reductions before 2020," says Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"The next few months are of prime importance to the future of comprehensive climate change actions within the aviation sector and the world as a whole," adds Figueres.

However, Steele points out that there remains a "huge political divide" over the targets for emissions reductions in the airline industry.

IATA's planned 1.5% annual target is at odds with the 2% annual fuel efficiency goal agreed at last year's ICAO meeting, while its carbon neutral growth target from 2020 at 2020 levels differs from the US Government's goal to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020 using 2005 as the baseline.

Steele believes ICAO "has the tools to deal with these differences", and is urging the body to "build bridges as we go ahead".

The 37th session of the ICAO Assembly will be held in Montreal later this month, ahead of the next UNFCCC climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico, which begins on 29 November. The industry will be watching both meetings closely to see if a global framework for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from aviation can be successfully reached this time around.