ATAG Forum: Michael Gill Speech


Inspiring challenge on climate change

Speech by Michael Gill, Executive Director, Air Transport Action Group

13 May 2019, Montreal

Ladies, Gentlemen, ICAO Council members and directors general, good morning and welcome to the 2019 Air Transport Action Group Global Sustainable Aviation Forum. We are delighted you could join us for what I trust will be a day packed full of information, discussion and debate.

Collaboration is key when it comes to both sustainability and air transport operations. Neither would be possible without a dedicated group of experts coming together to make incredible things happen.

ATAG, I believe, embodies that spirit and I am very pleased that we have here today a cross-section of the sustainability champions within the sector. You see that from our co-organisers: ACI, CANSO, IATA, IBAC and ICCAIA. Through these organisations, ATAG truly represents the air transport sector worldwide.

The strength of that spirit can really be felt when we join together to meet the challenges facing us all.

The world is facing just such a challenge now: climate change. Of course, the global community has been working to deal with carbon dioxide emissions for many decades. But the scale of the challenge was brought into stark relief last October by the IPCC report which reminded us of two things:

1) that the worst effects of climate change can be brought under control; but
2) it will take a monumental effort by all of us, across society.

The growing awareness of the issue has brought with it another phenomenon: the emergence of what psychologists are calling ‘eco-anxiety’, or a sense that climate change is insurmountable, that we are all doomed. So, it is unsurprising that we are seeing concerned young citizens leave their classrooms to take to the streets and demand greater action.

With more countries looking towards long-term action including shifting to net-zero emissions targets, attention turns naturally to our own plan. Ten years ago, the aviation industry set one of the first long-term goals for any single sector: to reduce our net emissions in 2050 to half of what they were in 2005.

This goal is actually in line with the Paris Agreement’s pledge to keep temperature rise to below 2°C. For a growing industry like air transport, halving emissions is a not inconsiderable challenge. When you layer global politics on top of necessary climate action, the challenge only increases.

So, can it be done? Well, yes, I think it can.

Our industry has shown extraordinary innovation throughout its years of service to global connectivity. We break the laws of gravity, every minute of every day, lifting up millions of people and bringing them closer to friends, family and business opportunities.

We have conquered the skies through technological brilliance and we can conquer our climate change impact as well. Today, I hope will provide a taste of the opportunities we should explore and the projects in which we need to invest time, money and brainpower.

A team of experts from across the ATAG membership is currently working to provide a deep understanding of our long-term goal and to detail the pathway to achieving it. That work will continue over the coming year.

But as we all know, this problem needs real solutions now, not just in 30 years’ time. This is why our plan includes the goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020, to be pursued through ICAO’s CORSIA.

But our plan also requires us to take decisive action in the next couple of years – certainly if we want to bring about a genuine energy transition in aviation.

Only a small number of the major oil companies seem to be taking a real interest in the challenge: so we are having to look to new energy producers. I would call on the traditional fuel suppliers to ‘read the tea leaves’ and acknowledge that change is coming. We need them to get on board with this transition in a serious way before they are overtaken by companies more willing to innovate.

I would also like to reiterate my call from last year for airlines to commit to significant uptake of sustainable aviation fuels in the coming years. This is really crucial. Governments must support this with appropriate policy structures. To reach a commercialisation tipping point, of around two percent of our fuel supply by 2025, will require some 7 billion litres of SAF per year. Current estimates show that there are commitments for production facilities to meet half that volume already.

So let’s raise our ambition levels and lay the foundations for not just our fuel supply out to 2025, but what has to actually become the main source of aviation energy in the coming decades.

A word on CORSIA: the industry stands fully behind this world-first programme. We have to ensure that CORSIA is robust not only through the monitoring of emissions – which actually started in January this year – but also in the emissions units that will be recognised.
It is estimated that through CORSIA, airlines will fund at least $40 billion in climate action projects around the world. We want to make sure that our investments really do bring additional and high-quality CO2 reductions.

We would like to urge all ICAO member states to reaffirm their support for CORSIA as the key measure to deal with the growth in international aviation emissions in the medium term.

Global standards help boost ambition globally.

Whilst there may be concerns about the stringency of CORSIA from some states, the only way to ensure full coverage is to work alongside fellow states to help secure more volunteers.

It is concerning to see a small number of States looking to implement a different set of monitoring criteria rules from the ICAO standards. And particularly the European Union – which is rightly recognised as a true champion of climate action – actually adopting standards that don’t match what was developed by leading experts from across the world at ICAO. To paraphrase my parents… Europe, I am not angry I am just disappointed.

It’s worth repeating: global standards help boost global ambition.

Governments are also looking to how they meet the Paris Agreement commitment at a national level. As they look for solutions, it is important not to be seduced by the easy option of taxation. This brings with it little environmental integrity and simply prices lower-income citizens out of the travel market. It may be more complex, with more stakeholders involved, to set up policy support for sustainable aviation fuel, but it is the right move for both now and in the long term if we are to transition away from fossil fuels.

Let us never forget that CO2 is the enemy in our struggle with climate change, not flying, not travel and not connectivity.

I was asked the other day if I am worried about climate change… if I have eco-anxiety. It’s a question we should all ask ourselves. As a father, I am of course concerned about the world I shall leave my children. I hope they have access to all the experiences I enjoyed when I was young – the nature, cold and wet Scotland!.., the clean air and good food… a liveable planet. But they should also have access to the same experiences of travel and exploration. How does our generation… the people in this room… work to ensure that?

Humans have a remarkable ability to overcome obstacles and, while climate change is a particularly tricky one, I am confident that we can do it.

In our sector, we should be excited about the challenge that lies ahead. Through technology, engineering, chemistry and biology, through innovation, collaboration and determination, thousands of our colleagues are already working to make low carbon flight not only a possibility, but eventually business as usual.

The fact that the average passenger on a European flight produces the same amount of CO2 per kilometer as the average European in a car is a remarkable effort – all the more so considering our passengers are moving at 900 kilometres an hour. That efficiency has doubled since 1990 and we can push it even further in the years ahead. Coupled with sustainable aviation fuel and more exciting developments in technology, we can be confident that our CO2 footprint is going to shrink. And maybe one day even disappear completely.

So instead of being anxious, I am inspired by the challenge, in a positive way.

We should all be inspired by this challenge.