This year's IATA AGM, which is set to adopt a fresh resolution reinforcing airline commitments to tackle aviation emissions, comes at a particularly notable time.
Airlines have since the start of the year been recording their emissions as part of the preliminary steps for the launch of the global market-based offset programme CORSIA in 2021. And in a few months' time, ICAO will hold its next general assembly, which IATA hopes will further affirm state commitments to CORSIA implementation.
All this is set against the raising of the issue up the political and social agenda in recent months. That has been made further evident by news climate change protesters in the UK are planning to hold a "non-violent direct action" on 18 June aimed at prompting the closure of London Heathrow airport for a day in protest at its expansion.
"It's clear that the focus both within the political institutions and the general public on climate change generally, and specifically on the role aviation has to play in reducing its environmental impact, has never been higher," says Michael Gill, IATA's director aviation environment and who heads the collective industry coalition grouping the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG).
Gill though notes this increased pressure is not because the aviation sector have done nothing about its emissions. “We’ve been pushing ahead with our climate action and it's brought about significant results. We are tracking ahead of our 1.5% fuel efficiency improvement target and we are well on the way to CORSIA implementation," he says.
He notes that just over a decade since the first biofuels flights took place, there have since been nearly 200,000 commercial flights using a blend of alternative fuels. Further momentum comes from longer-term airline commitments, such as the recent announcement by KLM to purchase 75,000 tonnes of biofuel a year from 2022 onwards.
"So we've been moving ahead with it but it's true there has been greater focus in recent months," he says, pointing to the impact of a United Nations IPCC report last October that urgent action was required for industry's to meet Paris agreement targets.
"I think it's very healthy that the younger generation is beginning to ask how different industries are going to address their impact on CO2 emissions," Gill adds.
"We as an industry sector have to continue to show more ambition and more willingness to drive ahead with the strategy we put in place," he says. "We are an industry that has so much to contribute to social and economic development, that we don't want to deprive future generations of the opportunities that aviation brings with them.
"But we want them to be assured we are doing so in a sustainable way and they shouldn't be ashamed to fly."
Gill says at the AGM IATA plans to adopt a resolution on climate action that not only reaffirms the support for CORSIA, but also underlines airline commitments to invest in new technology, operational improvements and the commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel.
"That's where we really see the huge opportunity CO2 reduction potential," he says. "The volumes are very small but the positives are quite rapid implementation over quite a short space of time. Where we would like to get to – and there have been a number of airline announcements, of which KLM SkyNRG is the most recent - where airlines are making long-terms commitments to purchase sustainable aviation fuel.
"That allows for more momentum to build in the market. Where we would like to get to is by the middle of the next decade, to have 2% of the total fuel supply coming from sustainable sources," he adds. "We think at that level there would be genuine uptake that could break this vicious circle we are in where the cost of purchasing the fuel is prohibitive so there is not enough supply."
Source: Cirium Dashboard