Keynote address

Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary, President of the ICAO Council

3 October, 2017 at the ATAG Global Sustainable Aviation Summit

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here.

I deliver many speeches in many parts of the world, but one common theme connects each of them…and that is change.

I speak about the benefits of change, how we can achieve it, and how the pace of it must increase in order to achieve our climate change objectives.

Perhaps no industry better understands rapid change—leading it, adapting to it, and benefitting from it—like the aviation industry.

It took just over 100 years from the first Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk to today, with more than 100,000 flights crisscrossing the world daily.

Those first aviators were the astronauts of their day, venturing bravely into the blue beyond with all hopes pinned on
12-horsepower motors and wings wrapped in fabric put together with family sewing machines.

Today, more than 10 million people board high-powered, state-of-the-art aircraft each day, whether for trade, tourism, or to connect with family and friends.

Another 10 million people are employed to make all of this possible.

The aviation industry has helped humankind achieve some of our greatest dreams and most important technological advances.

It shows that when will meets necessity, there are no impossible goals.

We draw upon this for inspiration as humankind faces an even bigger challenge—how to stop our dangerous interference with our climate system.

Our goals are significant: to achieve climate neutrality in the middle part of this century. To reduce our carbon footprint. To do nothing less than reverse the impact of 100 years of emissions in less than half of that same amount of time.

Our opposition is time.

To put it simply, we no longer have the luxury of it.

Gone are the days when we’d speak of climate change in terms of: “someday this could happen” or “maybe we should do something…tomorrow.”

Ladies and gentlemen, tomorrow is now today, climate change is happening before our eyes, and the action we take within the next five years will determine whether we are successful or not.

From every continent, from every corner of the globe, we see, read and hear the devastating stories of those who have suffered extreme climate events.

Whether we’re talking about the hurricanes that have torn apart the Caribbean, the deadly monsoons that have flooded India, Nepal and Bangladesh, or the wildfires that have torched parts of North America, we know that the world we lived in even a decade ago is now very different.

Science backs this up. NASA recently reported the first part of 2017 is already the hottest year on record. The previous hottest? 2016.

This is unacceptable and we must do something about it.

As Secretary-General Guterres said when recently spoke at a high-level debate at the opening of the UN Assembly in New York, there is no doubt about the way forward.

“It’s is time to get off the path of suicidal emissions,” he said. “We know enough today to act. The science is unassailable.”

If we are to get off that path, to make the great changes we need, we must have unprecedented cooperation, coordination and confidence.

We know this approach works.

After close to a quarter of a century of international negotiations, today we have a truly global international climate treaty—the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015.

It was the impossible dream and yet it has happened.

The policy-makers of nations rich and poor, East and West, North and South drew a line in the sand to kick-start a new, ambitious development path for humanity.

And its success will depend on the combined efforts of every man, woman, child, government, business and industry—including the airline industry.

In many ways, the airline industry has worked to achieve more sustainable growth.

For example, with every new generation of aircraft, we’ve seen double-digit improvements in fuel efficiency.

This has led to today’s modern aircraft producing 80 per cent less CO2 per seat than the first jets in the 1950s.

Alternative fuels are another area of growth.

Today, some 40,000 or more commercial flights have used some proportion of more environmentally-friendly biofuels made from plants, sugars, fats and oils including waste cooking oil—congratulations.

Fuels from micro-algae and even made from C02 itself are also under research and development.

Perhaps an even bigger prize is electric propulsion systems for aircraft—with several companies including Airbus now actively working to deliver that new frontier in C02-free flight. Again congratulations for this leadership and innovation.

While the industry has made progress, however, its climate footprint continues to grow rapidly.

ICAO predicts that CO2 emissions from international aviation will rise 300 per cent by 2050.

The industry is also responsible for non-CO2 emissions such as nitrogen oxide.

Let me be clear: I recognize that international aviation emissions are not explicitly covered under the UNFCCC.

The emission reduction requirements from countries under the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement only take into account emissions from domestic aviation.

But make no mistake, climate change knows no borders nor does it have an opt-out clause.

That’s why we welcome the decision of ICAO to implement the first global carbon market-based-mechanism—CORSIA—to stabilize emissions at 2020 levels.

CORSIA is the world’s first market-based-measure for dealing with climate change from any industrial sector.

This alone is significant and represents a much-needed step forward in ensuring that international aviation will be part of the solution to climate change.

Nonetheless, we feel the long-term goals of ICAO need further improvement in order to be in line with the Paris Agreement.

Remember, with the Paris Agreement, we set ourselves the target to stay well below 2 degrees Celsius of global temperature increase.

To reach it, science tells us that emissions must peak as soon as possible and we must achieve climate neutrality in the second half of this century.

The aspirational goal of stabilizing emissions at 2020 is therefore a good start, but these levels will not be enough to reach the Paris Agreement’s targets. Simply put, we need more ambition.

I note with great pleasure that the aviation industry has recognized this responsibility itself and has set the more ambitious target to reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

This is the kind of ambition that every government should be happy to support the aviation industry to achieve.

Therefore, in addition to ICAO upping its long-term ambition for aviation overall, we need more member states joining CORSIA.

The industry has pushed to get CORSIA implemented for more than six years, but as of September, only 72 member states out of 191 have volunteered to be part of its first phases.

Let’s be clear: this represents close to 88 per cent of international aviation activity and 80 per cent of emissions growth above 2020 levels—but the participation of all member states is needed for it to be fully effective.

And as CORSIA gets underway, we need to ensure clear guidelines are set—ones that avoid double-counting under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Ultimately, the two systems need to support each other.

Finally, let me mention a few words about pre-2020 action.

As I mentioned earlier, we are now at a stage where every year and every action counts.

Airlines that voluntarily take action today to reduce and offset their greenhouse gas emissions will be in a much better position than others who chose to wait until the last moment.

The early actors will have the benefit of having complete systems, experience, and a good understanding of what climate action means for their companies.

We believe that with or without CORSIA and Article 6 rules fully elaborated yet, there are significant benefits for airlines to benefit from learning-by-doing.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me be clear, we at the United Nations understand the importance of international civil aviation as a means to “create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world”.

We understand your role in not only connecting people with one another but supporting national economies.

We understand and recognize your efforts to become more sustainable and that you have made significant progress.

And we understand that what we are asking you to do is not easy…

… but neither is the task at hand.

We must make incredible progress to change our current climate change path in a very short period of time.

The aviation industry has a history of making incredible progress against seemingly impossible odds to help meet the demands humanity has placed upon it.

We call upon that leadership and ambition once again…

…to help change the current path we are on,

…to help change the way we’ve always done business

…and to help change inevitability into opportunity.

I look forward to working with you.

Thank you.