Ladies and gentlemen, in a few minutes Michael Gill will be summing up, but before that I’d like to reflect on where I see the airline industry in its approach to climate change.
I will start by saying that this is a special year for IATA. We are celebrating seven decades of airlines flying better because they are working together through IATA. We were founded in Havana, Cuba, in April 1945, even as the Second World War still raged.
It’s an extraordinary testament to the vision of the civil aviation industry that it could look beyond the war to see its role in a very different world. The industry’s leaders knew that air transport was going to be an integral and growing element of modern life. It had to reconnect the war-torn world. And to do that it would need to work together in coordination and cooperation on a global scale.
Seven decades on, that spirit of working together for a better future is still with us—most prominently in our commitment to the environment. As an aviation community we are acutely aware of our environmental impact and of our shared responsibility to manage and reduce it. It’s a big challenge. And we can be proud of aviation’s progress.
We have set tough targets and committed to a strategy to meet them. We have planned not only for the short and medium term, but also—because we know there is not an overnight fix for the problem—for the long-term, out to 2050. And, just as we did 70 years ago, we understand that by working together we can achieve far greater things than we can individually.
I would like to leave you with some thoughts on where we are and how we can move forward. I believe that collaboration through industry partnerships, innovation and industry unity are key. These themes come out loud and clear in ATAG’s Aviation Climate Solutions book.
Good stories bear repeating, so allow me to share some thoughts on each of these three areas beginning with collaboration and partnership. Flying is a team effort. And that is equally true for reaching our sustainability goals. The work that is being done by airlines and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) is a great example. More efficient routings offer one of the best potential short-to-medium term solutions for reducing emissions, so it is good to see many airlines and ANSPs working so closely together on this. As any airline operational department knows, we are just scratching the surface of what potentially could be achieved. As partners we must continually challenge each other with the aim of eliminating carbon-wasting inefficiency on a much broader scale.
The second theme that stands out is innovation. For airlines, one of the strongest areas of innovation is the use of sustainable aviation fuels. We all know how important these are to the long-term future of our industry. The work of the Sustainable Aviation Fuels User Group has been vital to ensure that our fuels will not compete with food sources or damage biodiversity. And of course there are the many initiatives worldwide that are improving our understanding of how biofuels can be integrated into everyday operations.
The third element I wish to highlight is the importance of industry unity. In 2013 IATA members at our 69th AGM reaffirmed our commitment to our emissions targets. We also stated that a global offsetting scheme would be our preferred market-based measure (MBM). Offsetting is important because it is a legitimate means for the industry to achieve carbon neutral growth. The planet does not care where emissions reductions come from – they just need to happen. So it makes sense for aviation, while it continues to take every step it can for itself, to encourage reductions in other business sectors where the scope for emissions cuts is greater. This is the swiftest and most efficient means of cutting carbon.
The united approach we have taken over the years, on our 4-pillar strategy, on our carbon goals, and on our preferred MBM, has stood us in good stead. Governments have heard a clear message from industry. And that message has facilitated and supported the progress that they have made through the ICAO process.
We have only 12 months to go before ICAO makes its decision on that MBM. In the hands of 190 states will be the power to make aviation’s carbon-neutral growth goal a reality. It is no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world will be on them. To support a successful outcome we have sent a clear and unequivocal message in the open letter to governments that we are signing today. And, as airlines—indeed as an industry—it is important that we stay united and true to our vision and commitments.
The stakes are high. If an agreement on an MBM is reached, then aviation will have taken its claim to be at the forefront of the practical fight against man-made climate change one giant step further. It’s the right thing to do and will grant us a license to continue the important work of connecting our planet.
I hope and believe that a workable market-based measure will be put in place. But it will not be easy. There is hard work ahead, the industry will need to stand united as the details are worked out. Failure to remain united could lead to an untenable patchwork of regulation, taxes, charges and onerous measures yet to be conceived. It is in our common interest to remain united.
We have a good track record to back our vision. Since we made our carbon commitments in 2009, more than 600 million tonnes of emissions have been avoided as a direct result of efforts associated with our four-pillar strategy. Our united and visionary position has helped us to maintain the high ground with the moral authority to call for governments to act, not only on the issue of an MBM, but on other aspects, such as long-overdue air traffic management reform, and putting in place policies to accelerate the production of sustainable fuels. Commitment from governments to work with us can only strengthen the industry in the long term. And that leads me to my final thought.
Since taking on the role of IATA’s Director General and CEO the environment is a subject that has formed a part of nearly every speech I have given. And prior to that, sustainability formed a major part of my thinking in guiding the strategic direction for Cathay Pacific. I want to conclude with a slightly provocative thought, a distillation of this long period contemplating aviation’s environmental footprint.
In just one century, the connectivity that only commercial aviation can deliver has changed our world for the better. And we are determined to grow in that vital role while reducing our environmental impact. I would take that one step further to say that aviation’s growth is essential to a more sustainable future for our planet—economically and environmentally.
Let me put it another way: aviation creates the connectivity that helps make our world a more prosperous place: a source of 58 million jobs and $2.4 trillion in economic activity. That prosperity drives the innovation that is needed for societies to move forward sustainably. Wherever you look, you see examples of how wealthier societies are able to prioritize the environment. Rising living standards lead to greater technological advances, far more efficient use of resources, and political pressure for environmental safeguards.
So ultimately, in addition to its own efficiency efforts, aviation’s greatest environmental service is to do what it keeps on doing – driving social and economic growth in every corner of our planet. To be a facilitator of trade and the exchange of knowledge. To be a force for good, spreading peace and prosperity around the globe.
In short: to save the earth, take to the air.