Cancún: Aviation Flying Low-carbon—an interview with Dan Elwell, Vice President of the International Air Transport Association(IATA)
Author: Edith Ni
As talks in Cancún seemed to be heading nowhere in the second week of the convention, the aviation industry held a low-carbon conference at the Cancún Convention Center that was refreshing and productive. While many industries’ summit forums focused on possibilities and simulations, the global aviation industry was the first to reach a consensus on the issue of climate change and make radical reduction commitments. The aviation industry became a respected leader among its fellow industries. At the conference, delegates from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and navigation enterprises all promised to take common but differentiated responsibilities, something that everybody in Cancún talked about but no one actually achieved. After the conference, Green Earth Volunteers briefly interviewed Dan Ellwell, IATA’s Vice President.
Edith: Will you kindly give us an introduction of the global low carbon commitment made by the aviation industry?
Elwell: Earlier this year at the 37th plenary conference session of the International Aerospace Industries Association (ICAO) in Montreal, a revolutionary resolution was passed. It promises that before 2020, the average annual aerospace emission will be reduced by 1.5% by improved fuel efficiency. Net emissions of carbon dioxide will peak in 2020 and in 2050, its emission will be cut by 50% compared to its emission in 2005.
Edith: How big of a role does the aviation industry play in terms of global carbon dioxide emissions?
Elwell: According to the 2007 IPCC report, the aviation industry accounts for about 2% of the total emissions worldwide. Of that 2%, 60% of the emissions come from international aviation. Among the total emissions of all industries, the transportation industry accounts for 13%, construction 8%, forestry 17%, industry 19%, energy supply 26%, waste water management 3%, and agriculture 14%. Of the total emissions of the transportation industry, road-based transportation accounts for 74% of the total emissions while the aviation industry accounts for only 13%.
Edith: Since the entire industry produces only 2% of all emissions, why is it so urgent for the ICAO to take action?
Elwell: According to our research data, the projected average annual air traffic growth is 4.7%. If we fail to take effective measures now, the proportion of emissions from the aviation industry and its impact will increase every year. If we compare the aviation industry to a country, its GDP ranks around No. 21, the equivalent of Switzerland's total emissions and more emissions than some members of the G20.
Edith: How is this ambitious emission reduction plan supposed to be implemented?
Elwell: Mainly in three ways. First, through technological advances and innovation, manufacturers have the confidence to further improve engine efficiency and significantly reduce noise. For example, the noise of the Vuvuzelas at the South African World Cup is 127 dB, while that of the Airbus 380 is only 82 dB. Fuel efficiency of the Airbus 380, the Boeing 787, and the Bombardier C series has been greatly increased, and the fuel consumption per 100 passengers per kilometer is less than 3 liters. Secondly, better management, such as modifying routes, shortening flights, and changing takeoff and landing modes will also aid in the process. Government cooperation is also needed in this regard. For example, the ICAO originally proposed a 2% annual reduction target that required further open skies in Europe and probably even in the United States. So we adjusted our target to 1.5%, a realistic goal that could be achieved within the industry itself by improving fuel efficiency. The third way is through developing alternative energy resources such as biomass. A number of research projects done by major airlines have already made some progress.
Edith: How did the global aviation industry reach such a consensus? Is the Chinese aviation industry also engaged in the low carbon commitment?
Elwell: It may have something to do with the high globalization of the aviation industry. Airlines, airports, and aircraft manufacturers are closely connected and the carbon reduction commitments comply with everyone's interests. The Chinese aviation industry has not joined so far, but we understand that our Chinese counterparts are also working on low-carbon designs in terms of technology and management.
Edith: What’s your expectation of the meeting in Cancún?
Elwell: Countries play a key role in carbon emission reduction. Take the aviation industry as an example. At the national level, countries are capable of promoting the development of green aviation technology, which will allow the carbon trade mechanism, low carbon aviation management, and alternative energy development to play their irreplaceable roles in reducing the industry’s carbon emissions. We hope that progress will be made in Cancún.
Translator: Bao Lan
Proofreader: Ryan Yu