A new deal to reduce carbon emissions: Better late than never

Picture courtesy Alaska Airlines which was ranked the msot fuel-efficient airline in the United States by the International Council on Clean Transportation in 2013.

FOUR years after the failed implementation of the Emissions Trading Scheme by the European Union (EU) in 2012, last week’s agreement among more than 190 countries in a deal to reduce CO2 emissions under the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) umbrella was a momentous event. Britain’s Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad said: “This is an unprecedented deal, the first of its kind for any sector… Until now, there has been no global consensus on how to address aviation emissions.”

From 2020, any increase in airline CO2 emissions will be offset by activities such as tree planting. Participation in the program will be voluntary right up to 2026. However, most nations are expected to comply. Countries that had previously protested have shown their support, including China and Brazil. Exceptions include Russia and India. India reiterated that the deal puts an unfair burden on emerging economies.

As much as there is applause for the new pact to stabilise climate change, noting that aviation alone contributes to at least 2 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, there are also reservations about its effectiveness. Environmentalists are concerned about the effort lagging behind the demand for air travel. Bill Hemmings from the green group T&E said: “Airline claims that flying will now be green are a myth. Taking a plane is the fastest and cheapest way to fry the planet and this deal won’t reduce demand for jet fuel one drop.”

The pressure will be on the airlines to acquire more fuel efficient aircraft but plane makers may not have the capability not only to cope with the demand but also to constantly innovate fast enough for better solutions. A brighter note is how some airlines have begun using cleaner-burning biofuels.

The new deal banks on a principle of offsetting that may be viewed more amenably as a form of investment in a greener world instead of the previously proposed carbon trading scheme of the EU and the pecuniary penalty of a fine imposed on defaulters. Under the program, airlines will buy credits to offset emissions. The credits could come from projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as forest conservation programs and alternative energy sources.

The costs of offsetting are likely to be passed on to the consumer. No surprise there. It will mean higher airfares, or another surcharge in an already long list of ambiguous costs. While industry experts say it will not be significant, more discerning travellers will be quick to point out how sometimes “other charges” amount to more than the so-called airfare per se.

Presently offsetting rules are far from being clear and there is need too to consider methods of monitoring, measurement and implementation. The question of fairness will remain a perennial problem, hence dissension by some nations. So far only about one third of the agreeing nations have said they would participate in the voluntary phase.

Yet to be discouraged by negative considerations however numerous they are is a failure to recognise the breakthrough after years of wrangling to get the parties concerned on board. The road ahead is not without bumps as the industry works at finding an acceptable balance between growth in aviation and an increase in carbon emissions. There is some comfort to be optimistic and hoping.


About Dingzi
Writer by passion, with professional expertise in aviation, customer service and creative writing. Aviation veteran, author, editor and management consultant. Besides commentary on business issues and life-interest topics, travel stories and book reviews, genres include fiction, poetry and plays. Nature lover who abhors cruelty of any form to animals, and a tireless traveler. Above all, a dreamer.

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