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It’s a common failing of humanity that the urgent eclipses the imperative

Political leaders are fond of saying responding to climate change is a marathon, not a sprint, but the reality is that few countries are even out of the starting blocks yet. There are too many pressing claims on short term action for the big picture to be dealt with.


The damage being wreaked on the earth’s future by man-made emissions is no longer theoretical, it is there for all to see – and to experience. 

Yet, aside from hopeful words and grand plans, action remains a scarce commodity.


Among industries, aviation is responsible for a relatively small proportion of total emissions – somewhere around 3% – but its growth profile propels it towards a menacing increase as many others achieve actual decreases.


Until now, as real attempts are being made to find alternative fuel sources, the industry has been fortunate in that cost saving has been synonymous with emission reduction. More efficient engines and airframes have produced unit cost improvement which have helped avoid straight line growth in emissions as flights increased.


But now the crunch is on to find alternative, sustainable aviation fuels – and they are going to be more expensive, probably much more so. Even if sufficient amounts were available (they’re vastly not), airlines could not viably use them. As it is, delivering the quantity of alternative product needed to make a difference is a distant dream in any case. Substituting even 10% of conventional fuel by the end of this decade is highly optimistic.


Alternatives sources like hydrogen are still largely unproven, as is the possible use of carbon capture to dispose of conventional emissions.


For all but small short-haul aircraft, electric power is not an option either, and won’t be until well into the 2030s at best. Batteries are too big and heavy.


The bottom line is the bottom line, for the time being at least. That is, to produce reductions on any significant scale, massive investments are going to be needed, well beyond the resources of commercial airlines.


Yet it is not enough for airlines to cast the entire burden outside the industry.  Even though IATA and ICAO moved early at institutional level to prepare for the inevitable, very few airline CEOs and their boards have taken serious measures to address the need for fundamental change. 


Greenwashing and PR are too frequently still seen as key weapons to head off the challenge. And providing carbon offset opportunities to travellers does nothing to influence management decision making, whether or not the offsets are effective.


Much the same inertial criticisms can be made of governments; but they will respond to popular movements by imposing controls on airline activity. Europe is already moving in a mostly uncoordinated way in that direction.


It’s time for the marathon to begin, but the longer the start is delayed, the greater the need to sprint.


Keep watching as we provide incisive, independent analysis of the airline sector and environmental sustainability, as well as helpful links and resources.

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Sharpening the aviation industry's focus on CO 2

Greener Airlines is behind a growing number of aviation/travel related projects and businesses that will help engage industry in the decarbonisation effort. 

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