As bold PR moves go – and this is bold – amongst the politicians making promises today at the UN Climate Summit, the CEO of British Airways, Willie Walsh will make a dramatic pledge to cut global aviation emissions to 50 per cent of 2005 levels by 2050.
Like a snake oil salesman bearing gifts with potentially life-saving properties, Walsh will try to bamboozle the assembled dignatories with promises a plenty about how the industry is taking climate change seriously.
But is Walsh saving the climate or saving himself and the aviation industry from impending harsh regulation at Copenhagen?
The aviation industry has been under growing pressure to respond seriously to climate change, and “the strategic shift reflects industry concerns that it could be ambushed at the global warming summit in Copenhagen in December if it does not address its growing emissions”, argues the Guardian. It is, says the paper, “a bid to seize the initiative from environmental groups clamouring for higher taxes on the industry”.
According to the paper, the pledges drawn up by members of the global airline body, the International Air Transport Association, are:
• To reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050, compared with 2005 levels.
• To make all industry growth carbon-neutral by 2020.
• To cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5% per year over the next decade.
• To submit plans for joining a global carbon trading scheme to the UN by November 2010.
However, there is only so much emission savings the industry can achieve through technological progress. Much of its supposed emission reduction will be through emission-trading. This does not wash with its critics.
“It is a real problem that this will include offsetting and buying carbon credits,” said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace. “It shows that Willie Walsh is not really taking the issue of climate change seriously.”
Indeed, the anti-aircraft group Plane Stupid, argue that the announcement is nothing more than to ‘Save the Airlines from Copenhagen Cuts’ , because “ The industry really doesn’t want to be lumbered into a Kyoto2 deal, so it figures that some good PR right about now will dissuade cut-ready politicians from locking them into any legal framework.”
Richard goes through the numbers. In 2005 the industry emitted 37.5 million tonnes of CO2. In 2050, the industry was, as of January 2009, expected to emit around 59.9 million tonnes. But the airlines now think that they can reduce emission to 19 million tonnes.
The devil is always in the detail. The more you unpick these numbers the more they will unravel because they are pie in the sky. Walsh is prommising the earth knowing he won’t deliver, but also knowing if he can get the airline industry passed Copenhagen they will be off the hook.
And someone should tell Willie and the politicians that offsetting is discredited as a solution. They might just have to just stop flying instead…