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Date: 23 October 2009

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi

It is a great honor to share this event with TERI, a world leader on the important issue of climate change. 

The Vision

IATA’s mission is to represent, lead and serve the airline industry.  In my seven years as Director General of IATA, environment is the issue that has most fully matched this mission.

Our first task in developing an industry response to climate change was to build consensus.  That was not easy, but not because airlines did not care about climate change. Improving fuel efficiency and environmental performance has always been on the agenda.  In the last 40 years, fuel efficiency improved by 70%. 

Our members were at different stages.  Europe was most sensitive because the political awareness was highest.  The US had not ratified Kyoto, so there was no sense of urgency.  And airlines in developing states, including India, were in a rush to support the economic growth and social benefits that aviation brings.

My job was to build consensus and mobilize the industry.  To speed the process, I had to start with a shock.  Twenty-nine months ago, at our Annual General Meeting in Vancouver, I announced a vision that air transport should achieve carbon-neutral growth on the way to a carbon-free future.

People thought that I was crazy and that it was an impossible task.  I admit I had a roadmap but not a clear picture of the entire process.  But history gave me confidence.  In 50 years, we went from the Wright brothers, a fragile plane of wood and fabric, to jet powered airplanes crossing oceans. Nobody can put limits on what can be achieved in the next 50 years.

The Strategy

To kick-start the process, we gathered the industry together—airlines, airports, air navigation services and manufacturers.  We agreed to a four-pillar strategy:

  • Invest in technology
  • Effective operations
  • Efficient infrastructure
  • And positive economic measures.

The Results

Most importantly, we went to work to deliver results.

Our technical team is working to shorten routes, 244 so far this year alone.  The IATA Green Teams have worked directly with 73 airlines this year to implement best practice in fuel efficiency.  And we have worked with airports and air navigation service providers to implement performance based navigation at 156 airports around the world.  Our work on operations and infrastructure alone has saved nearly 70 million tonnes of CO2. 

Considering that the entire industry’s CO2 output is about 660 million tonnes, these measures are impressive and are making a real difference to environmental performance.  They are also good for business, saving nearly US$13 billion on the fuel bill.  This year, aviation’s emissions will fall by 7% - 5% from the recession and 2% as a result of our strategy.

Future Possibilities

Going forward, the three biggest possibilities for emissions reductions are:

  • Technology—new planes and new engines
  • Infrastructure—better air traffic management
  • And sustainable biofuels.

Of these, sustainable biofuels are the most exciting.  For the first time, air transport has the possibility of an alternative to traditional jet fuel.  Our attention is on camelina, jatropha and algae, which do not compete with food crops for land or water.  And they have the potential to reduce our carbon footprint by up to 80%.

And because they can be grown in almost any soil condition, they have the potential to create new industries and livelihoods by bringing sustainable energy production jobs to many of the least developed parts of the planet. 

This is not just a future ambition.  Four test flights show that biofuels meet our technical and safety standards.  And that we can blend them with traditional fuel and use them in today’s aircraft and engines.

Progress is going at a much faster pace than anybody anticipated.  Three years ago, sustainable biofuels were a dream.  Now we expect certification no later than 2011.

The Targets

Our fast progress and future possibilities gave us confidence to set targets.  In June, our Board of Governors agreed to 3 sequential targets.  These are:

  • Improving fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5% per year though 2020
  • Stabilizing emissions with carbon-neutral growth from 2020
  • And cutting net emissions in half by 2050, compared to 2005.

And when IATA sets targets, we achieve them.  Look at how we rolled-out e-ticketing to every corner of the planet in just 48 months.

These environment targets represent a landmark and forward-looking decision by the Board and we worked quickly to make this the unified industry position. Airlines, airports, air navigation service providers and manufacturers are aligned and equally committed.  I know of no other industry that has taken such a bold and global commitment.

Approaching Copenhagen

As governments prepare for Copenhagen, we brought our targets to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN agency responsible for aviation.  We asked that governments support a global sectoral approach for aviation, under ICAO in cooperation with the UNFCCC.

Industry is responding globally to the challenge of climate change. A global sectoral approach would take advantage of this by:

  • Accounting for emissions at a global level, not by state
  • Making aviation fully accountable to pay for its emissions once, not several times over
  • And giving us access to global carbon markets until technology provides the ultimate solution.

This would fit naturally with the Kyoto Protocol, which gave ICAO responsibility for aviation’s emissions. 

Governments took note of our targets.  But our concrete actions were far ahead of the politics of climate change.  The industry is focused on achieving emissions reductions but governments could not go beyond an agreement to improve fuel efficiency.

This was still a positive development.  Governments agreed to deal with aviation and climate change at ICAO, the most effective place to do so.  Governments recognized that we can only tackle aviation’s emissions if government and industry work together.  And governments left the door open to developing a global sectoral approach.

Why ICAO?

The next challenge is Copenhagen, where the negotiations will be tough.  A global sectoral approach under ICAO and working with IATA provides the best possibility for aviation to meet its climate change responsibility as a global industry. 

First, ICAO has a successful track record.  A few years ago, ICAO developed a global framework to deal with noise.  It phased out the noisiest aircraft in seven years between 1995 and 2002.  This global solution also took into account the difficult situation of some developing nations with an extension to 2005.  Today the industry is 70% quieter than four decades ago.  This example clearly shows that an ICAO global framework can accommodate developing nation airlines with different time scales.

Second, having ICAO handle aviation will keep the focus on measures to reduce emissions.  If ICAO is not in control, we already see government eagerness to tax the industry.  Look at Europe which has plans to tax all flights to and from Europe in its unilateral emissions trading scheme. 

If Europe does it, others will follow.  We could easily lose US$10 billion or more in new taxes and charges that rob us of the ability to invest in new fuel efficient aircraft.  Aviation must take responsibility for its emissions.  And this must be done in a globally coordinated framework that can only be achieved by ICAO working with IATA.

Aviation is a responsible industry, serious about climate change.  We remain committed to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and the 50% cut by 2050.

Building Support

Where do we go from here?  We continue to build support and seek input on our plans.  In July, I met with Dr. Pachauri in Geneva to present our strategy and our targets.  It was an important meeting.  From the very beginning, we have been relying on the numbers and analysis of the IPCC to guide us.

As the most respected scientific voice on climate change, through his work at TERI and the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri’s positive analysis of our work was a tremendous encouragement for our industry efforts.  I look forward to meeting him this evening for further discussions.

Last week, I took our strategy and targets to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York.  The Secretary-General commended aviation’s efforts as an example for other industries to follow, and urged us to present our story in Copenhagen as an example of an entire industry working together to achieve relevant targets.

And in the 45 days, between now and the start of Copenhagen, we will be doing our best to ensure that governments understand our ambitious and responsible commitments, and the most effective way to achieve them.

Now, I will turn the floor to Mr. Desai, Distinguished Fellow at TERI’s Climate Change Centre for Global Environment Research.  We welcome your thoughts and comments on our targets, approach and ideas, your expectations for Copenhagen, a perspective on TERI’s work with IPCC on climate change mitigation, and your view on whether aviation’s efforts can be an approach for other industries to follow.

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