The industry's proactive coalition The Air Transport Action Group is stepping up its campaign to get aviation's message heard on the environment. Its head Paul Steele talks to Mark Pilling

When Paul Steele took on the role as head of Air Transport Action Group little did he know he'd soon be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It takes a rather brave man to push the governor of California around, but Steele had to do just that at December's Climate Change conference in Copenhagen because Arnold was hogging ATAG's live link-up with a press briefing back in Geneva.

Steele needed Arnold to exit stage right to explain to the world's media gathered at IATA's headquarters how ATAG was getting across its message in Copenhagen. And it is quite remarkable how all parts of the industry have lined up on the environment.

"We've stepped up three gears in the last year," says Steele. "I believe our industry has really got its act together on this issue. We've got a clear plan and clear targets."

Over the past 12 months, ATAG has been spearheading the industry's voice in the green lobbies. This is new, for while over the past couple of years the industry has gone from being constantly on the defensive about its environmental record into a more proactive phase it has not gone deep into environment meetings like Copenhagen.

Global Solution

Steele rejects the suggestion that the industry has been late to the party, arguing that the timing for greater interaction is just about right. "Now we are present at these inter-governmental meetings to make the case," says the former chief operating officer of WWF International who is also IATA's director aviation environment.

It was in the lead up to December's Copenhagen climate change conference that ATAG entered this new era. Critically ATAG was able to take to the global climate talks a position that saw the industry "united behind common goals and a global solution". This centres on ICAO continuing to play a leading role in efforts to limit and reduce aviation emissions.

"For the first time this industry spoke with one voice on this issue," says Steele. "[Aviation] was the only industry to put forward a comprehensive plan at the global level to deal with this issue. We went from laggard to leader."

Part of the mission at Copenhagen was to head off any taxes that could be slapped on aviation to pay for climate change measures. "Before Copenhagen there were all sorts of ideas out there," says Steele. But the worries were unfounded. "No arbitrary measures were applied," he says.

In addition, what ATAG did manage to achieve at Copenhagen is a "lot more recognition of the industry's position", says Steele. "The policy-makers now have a much better understanding of the role of ICAO and the need for ICAO to manage this issue."

What Copenhagen did not achieve was agreement on how to treat aviation not because aviation was a problem case but because the overall talks broke down over how developed and developing nations deal with climate change.

Policy Vacuum

However this did leave something of a policy vacuum. The worse thing we could see is a patchwork quilt of taxes, emissions trading schemes etc, you name it, rather than a global agreement on aviation."

 What is ATAG?
Founded in 1990, ATAG is "the only cross-industry aviation group that represents all of the major stakeholders: airlines, air navigation providers, airports and aerospace manufacturers", says its head Paul Steele. Its special focus is the environment and infrastructure issues. ATAG's mission is to define common positions on these issues and to make expert and constructive contributions to the industry and governmental consultation process. ATAG has some 70 members worldwide; its funding members include Airports Council International, Airbus, Boeing, CFM International, IATA and Rolls-Royce. "The big aim is to get an Assembly Declaration on climate change - the question is how far it will go?"
Although Copenhagen left aviation partly in limbo, there were positives. "Since Copenhagen we have seen significant shifts in positions from governments," he says. ATAG's lobbying "has caused people to take stock of where they are and where they are going. Some have slowed their plans or are evaluating their outcomes."

The next big engagement is ICAO's Assembly in late September. "The big aim is to get an Assembly Declaration on climate change - the question is how far it will go?" says Steele. "We would love to see them adopt the same targets as the industry and put in place a global framework for aviation to put the [industry] strategy in place. This is important because it would be the framework from which states put [climate change measures] into practice."

Steele is now a permanent observer on the "Friends of the president group", founded in March and chaired by ICAO president Roberto Gonzalez that is preparing a declaration to the Assembly. This is a major step up for ATAG as it is the only industry body in this position and sits alongside representatives from 18 countries and one non-governmental organisation. "We've never before been in this position," says Steele.

"We are now looking for the legal framework for states so when they put together economic measures they are aligned and that emissions from aviation are accounted for only once," he says.

Source: Flight Daily News