The climate crisis has put aviation in the spotlight with the introduction of a new phrase to the global vocabulary—"flygskam" or "flight shaming".
People should be concerned about the environmental impact of all industries. That includes aviation, which accounts for 2% of global human generated carbon emissions. However, they need to be reassured of our commitment to sustainability. We have been driving climate action for over a decade.
- We committed to improve fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5% annually between 2009 and 2020. We are achieving 2.3%.
- We committed to carbon-neutral growth from 2020. And the ICAO Assembly confirmed its resolve to make a success of CORSIA—the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. It is the global measure that will enable us to work towards capping the growth in CO2 from aviation and generate some $40 billion in climate funding.
- And we committed to cut our net emissions to half 2005 levels by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement 2°C goal. Industry experts are collaborating through the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) to map out how we will achieve this based on realistic technology and policy solutions. And, at our strong instigation, governments, through ICAO, are now looking to set their own long-term goal for emissions reduction.
We can and should be proud of this progress. But there is still more work to do.
We must make the world's first sectoral carbon mechanism CORSIA as comprehensive as possible. Over 80 countries have signed up to the voluntary phases of the scheme before it becomes mandatory. This will cover most of the anticipated growth in aviation CO2 emissions from international aviation post-2020, but we must still encourage more states to join the effort from day one, including several large travel markets.
Governments must be held accountable for their CORSIA commitments. Too many states—particularly in Europe—are introducing aviation carbon taxes that could undermine CORSIA. This must stop. Taxes are a politician's way out. They are easy to put in place and make it look like action is being taken. But in aviation they rarely have the desired environmental benefit, and simply cut off travel options from lower-income consumers. It takes more time and more effort to put in place a package of measures that can actually reduce emissions in the long-term. But that approach is a hundred times more beneficial than a blunt tax.
Sustainable Aviation Fuels
Governments also must focus on doing what they can to underpin the technology and policy solutions that will make flying sustainable. In the immediate term, that means focusing on sustainable aviation fuels which have the potential to cut our carbon footprint by up to 80%.
We are at the start of an energy transition in aviation. This is vital for our sector's fight against climate change.
For over a hundred years, we have had a fuel that has served aviation reliably and safely. Unfortunately, it is a fossil fuel and its time is coming to an end.
The first test flight of a commercial aircraft with sustainably sourced fuel took place a decade ago. It demonstrated that, technically, a change was possible. And it gave us a challenge—to turn this technical achievement into a day-to-day reality.
In four short years experts from across the aviation sector worked to thoroughly test and then certify sustainable aviation fuels as safe for use in commercial passenger flights.
By 2016, sustainable aviation fuel production facilities started supplying Oslo and then Los Angeles airports.
To date, over 215,000 commercial flights have been powered by sustainable aviation fuels. They are a reality. But they are in short supply—serving only 0.1% of aviation's energy needs. The fourteen production facilities under construction now will bring us much of the way towards 2% by 2025.
We believe that could be a tipping point in aviation's energy transition.
This will be an energy transition like we have never seen before. And we are determined to deliver it with the same spirit of innovation and technical expertise that helps us to safely transport 12 million people each day. And we do that with the average fuel efficiency of a mid-sized car, but at speeds of 900 kilometers an hour.
Aviation is used to big challenges. But the blockers for aviation's energy transition are scale, cost and speed. Airlines need more sustainable aviation fuel, at commercially realistic prices, quickly.
We are going to need some help to do that.
Firstly, from governments. Governments have a history of leadership in energy transition. That is how the solar and wind energy industries became the market leaders they are today. It is no different for aviation.
Aviation connectivity is critical to link economies and underpin development. Government incentives to do that with sustainable fuel sources are needed. They should aim to bring down costs while scaling-up production to make sustainable aviation fuels commercially viable.
That is not the end of the story for governments. We also need policies to drive the supply of sustainable aviation fuels towards aviation. Enough sustainable fuels are produced to power about 10% of aviation's needs. But the vast majority of it goes to road transport.
Electrification of road vehicles is tried, tested, scalable and on the market today. Aviation should be a policy priority because it does not have a near-term electrification option.
Aviation has high hopes for tomorrow's announcement of the European Commission's Green Deal. We want to be a leader as Europe builds a new energy economy and we will do everything we can to make sustainable aviation fuels a priority for Europe and inspiration for others.
We also need help from our traditional energy suppliers. The oil majors are not leading in the transition, and they really have to. This is a big opportunity for them. We are seeing some investments in sustainable aviation fuel production, but so far these have been only small steps. This must change, and fast.
The major oil companies have the expertise, the distribution networks and – importantly – the financial heft to make a real difference. I call on them to make this an absolute priority, helping to underpin global connectivity for future generations by making sustainable aviation fuels a commercial reality.
New suppliers will also play a role with innovative production methods. Airlines will be eager customers of anyone bringing more supply. The only caveat is that scarcity cannot be an opportunity for price gouging.
And thirdly, the airline community which I represent will continue to have its skin in the game. The leaderboard of airlines working on sustainable aviation fuels is impressive:
- United Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Virgin Australia
- Lufthansa Group
- Virgin Atlantic
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- Air France
In total, around 40 airlines have at least some limited experience with sustainable aviation fuels. So we have some work to do in spreading understanding and expertise within our own industry as well. If at least half our 290 airline members could pursue at least some sustainable aviation fuel experience by 2025, we would have a critical mass to accelerate progress.
If I sound optimistic about these new fuels, it is because I am. It is a core part of aviation's climate change strategy. I should also remind you that we are not putting all our eggs in one basket. We have a comprehensive strategy on climate change.
- The continuous improvements in new aircraft technology will deliver 20% more efficiency with each new generation of aircraft. The world's airlines have spent over a trillion dollars on these new jets since we made the climate commitments. And we will continue to spend heavily in this area.
- Electrification also has a role. We may see electric regional jet-sized passenger aircraft by around 2035, with smaller aircraft flying between now and then as battery technology develops.
- And there are advances in air traffic management and operational performance taking place every day, all across the system continuously helping us use less energy to get people where they need to be.
A dialogue with travelers is also part of our strategy. People are adjusting their personal habits to avoid a climate calamity. That's a good thing. Transparency on what we have done and what we will do is essential so that people have the facts needed to make the right choices on mobility. And I believe that aviation's track record and targets should reassure our passengers present and future that they can fly proudly and sustainably.
The progress we will make in future is inspired by real achievements in the past. For those who arrived here by plane, your trip emitted half the carbon it would have in 1990. That efficiency improvement is twice the rate of the global economy as a whole and we intend to continue that progress. Aviation will continue to innovate, adapt and thrive on the road to sustainability.
In the climate change battle, carbon is the enemy. And we will defeat it with a move to new fuels and technologies. That will ensure that future generations will enjoy an even more sustainably connected world than we have today.