The freedom to hop on a plane

Transportation is one of the largest contributors to GHG emissions, ranking second after the generation of electricity. Airlines are projected to account for about 2 percent of global emissions — about the same as Germany. Yet the global air transport industry, airlines and manufacturers, is free from any laws that would limit emissions or penalize an emitter financially.

Five years ago we described international air transport as “The Wild West of Green House Gas Emissions.  Efforts by the European Union to reign in these emissions ran into such opposition from countries with a large stake in the industry that the operation of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme was suspended.

In a second blog we stated:

Something must be done.  Perhaps – instead of more wrangling over Kyoto – the United Nations should fast track an international industry wide solution for aviation carbon emissions.  It will not be an easy task but it has a better chance of achieving an agreement, which is more than we can expect from Kyoto.”  

Now “something” is being done. After more than six years of negotiations, the global aviation industry agreed last month to the first binding limits on carbon dioxide emissions, tackling the fastest-growing source of GHG pollution. A US Government spokesperson described the industries commitment as “a positive first step”.

The proposed new rules, announced in Montreal by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations’ aviation agency, would apply to all new airplanes delivered after 2028.

And in the meantime?  Air transport emissions could triple by the middle of the century given the expected growth in air travel over the next decades.The global aviation industry will not do anything significant. Like the fossil fuel industry, it is not ready to go out of business.


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