Special report: What the Copenhagen summit means for aviation?

7 Dec 2009 by BusinessTraveller

The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) has begun. Jenny Southan reports on how the talks will affect the airline industry.

With delegates from 192 countries congregating in the Danish capital for two weeks of debate on how to tackle the problem of climate change, the travel industry is watching with interest to see how it will affect the future of flying. The last time global targets were agreed for reducing greenhouse gases was at the 1997 conference in Kyoto, but the airline industry was not included.

In the years since, scientific evidence has supported growing concerns that carbon emissions caused by flying are a real problem. Airlines are responsible for 2-3 per cent of CO2 emissions globally, but in the UK it is 6-7 per cent. Some commentators even predict airlines could be responsible for up to 50 per cent of emissions in 40 years if left unchecked.

Many airlines are already investing in ways to cut emissions and save fuel, particularly in Europe, as from 2012 the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will require them to monitor and report their CO2 emissions. If carriers breach the emissions cap set, they will have to purchase carbon credit allowances from those who pollute less, effectively putting a price on carbon to force a reduction in pollution.

The ETS is a step in the right direction, but it is not a solution, as it doesn’t cover all airlines – it will only apply to flights from, into and within Europe. Commentators warn us not to expect a global agreement on capping CO2 from flying any time soon.

Tony Grayling, head of climate change for the Environment Agency, says: “In the short term, the international agreement of the kind that will be made in Copenhagen won’t include aviation, but in the longer term it will have to. Copenhagen won’t be, and can’t be, the last word. The more immediate concern for aviation is actually the ETS, but it is vital that we make progress at Copenhagen because the longer we leave it before taking action, the more difficult it will be to avoid dangerous climate change – if we can avoid it at all.”

Mike Carrivick, chief executive of Bar UK, a trade association for scheduled airlines, adds: “The airline industry knows it has to pay its way because it subscribes to the concept of ‘the polluter pays’. But progress at Copenhagen will be hard work because the developing countries are doing just that – developing – and I think their views are at odds with developed countries, which are looking to cut back.”

So what do the airlines say? Jonathon Counsell, head of environment for British Airways, says: “For aviation, success at Copenhagen would be a recognition that the industry has to be included in a global agreement, and that aviation should be treated as one sector. The other thing we would be looking for is commitment to reduction targets. We have two targets that are agreed at industry level – carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and a 50 per cent reduction on our net emissions by 2050.

“However, it’s highly unlikely that those targets will be agreed on at COP15. What we would hope for is a recognition that the industry is willing to commit to reduction targets and that there will be a process by which they will be included in a global agreement in the future.”

Andrew Harrison, chief executive of Easyjet, says: “Whatever comes out of COP15 won’t be the answer. The EU ETS is good, but a global trading scheme will not come for decades. The best-case outcome we could hope to see is a global agreement on how to tackle greenhouse gases and a framework for the aviation industry.”

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Report by Jenny Southan

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