It’s inevitable – travellers will have to help shoulder the burden of maintaining cleaner skies, once the infrastructure of attaining carbon-neutral growth and reducing carbon emissions is firmly established.

In a firm commitment to the environment, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – representing over 200 of the world’s carriers – at its 65th annual general meeting in Kuala Lumpur yesterday pinpointed 2020 as the deadline for “a global cap on our emissions,” according to director general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani. This will be achieved through three goals: a 1.5 percent average annual improvement in fuel efficiency from 2009 to 2020; carbon-neutral growth from 2020; and a 50 percent absolute reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Such efforts will come at a price not only for the airlines, but the consumer as well. “We can’t tackle the issue alone,” admitted Wallop Bhukkanasut, THAI Airways chairman of the executive board committee.

Said Samer Majali, former IATA chairman and president/CEO of Royal Jordanian: “Nobody can predict the economic impact (from the cost of research etc) on passengers, but for sure, a portion will be passed on to them – our profitability is already negative. Any fare increase will have to be balanced between becoming non-competitive and making your financial problems worse.”

The airline body, which has revised its 2009 performance forecast to a global loss of US$9 billion due to the ongoing recession, urged governments to also match its commitment. IATA director-general Bisignani said the global leadership had to set carbon emission standards for aircraft manufacturers, set up the framework to support the availability of sustainable biofuels and work with aviation hubs to push forward major projects such as a Single European Sky, Next Gen in the US or the Pearl River Delta in China.

The timing of IATA’s pledge to carbon-neutral growth is significant, coming at a time when countries prepare for the UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December.

While as many as 30 IATA-member airlines have already launched their own offset programmes, which enable passengers to buy carbon offsets for their travel, there are many others who still do have their own. For this purpose, IATA started developing a scheme in 2007, which subscribes to UN-certified emission reduction projects.

For more details on the carbon offset programme, visit

Margie T Logarta