Rate of growth in airline carbon emissions has slowed this year but will pick up in 2020, forecasts IATA
Tue 17 Dec 2019 – According to IATA’s latest half-yearly industry outlook, the rate of growth in carbon emissions will have slowed in 2019 as a result of lower growth in capacity and improvements in fuel efficiency. Fuel consumption and carbon emissions from the global fleet have in recent years risen at rates above five per cent per year but carbon emissions in 2019 are estimated by IATA at 915 million tonnes (Mt) compared with 905 Mt in 2018, a rise of 1.1%. Fuel use in 2019 is expected to top 363 billion litres. Addressing journalists at the annual Global Media Days in Geneva last week, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac said the industry could be proud of its record on climate action but that there was more work to be done by industry and governments. IATA also announced a partnership with CBL Markets to establish a CORSIA carbon exchange for airlines.
“As the world focuses on cutting carbon to avoid a climate calamity, all industries need to step up,” said de Juniac. “Aviation made serious climate action commitments in 2008 – long before the word ‘flygskam’ entered our vocabulary.
“We committed to improve fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5% annually between 2009 and 2020 – we are achieving 2.3%. We committed to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and the ICAO Assembly [in October] confirmed its resolve to make a success of CORSIA. It is the global measure that will enable us to cap net emissions and it will generate some $40 billion in climate funding over the lifetime of the scheme.
“And we committed to cut our emissions to half 2005 levels by 2050, which aligns aviation with the Paris Agreement. Industry experts are collaborating through the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) to map out how we will achieve this based on realistic technology and policy solutions. Moreover, at our strong instigation, governments, through ICAO, are now looking to set their own long-term goal for emissions reduction.”
He said there was a need to ensure the global CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation emissions was a success and was not compromised by a patchwork of competing taxes and charges. Governments too were required to focus on driving technologies, such as sustainable aviation fuels, and policy solutions to make flying sustainable, he said.
“We need to support these efforts with effective communication, so that people and governments are fully aware of what aviation is doing,” he said. “And let me be clear – carbon is the enemy, not flying. Our goal is to keep the world flying sustainably and with pride.”
He claimed global goodwill towards implementing CORSIA was being compromised by governments in Europe deciding or proposing to levy air passenger taxes.
“Taxation aimed at stopping people from exercising their freedom to fly will make travel more expensive but do very little to reduce emissions,” said de Juniac. “It is a politician’s feel-good solution, without taking responsibility for the negative impact it has on the economy or the mobility restrictions it imposes on people with lower incomes.”
IATA argues that using taxes to decrease demand and therefore reduce emissions does not work. Creating a lower demand risks making certain flights unprofitable and if the flight is cancelled, the aircraft is merely deployed to a different market, it said.
People are adjusting their personal habits to manage their individual carbon footprints, said de Juniac. “That’s a good thing. It is our duty as an industry to ensure they have the facts needed to make the right choices on air travel.”
Brian Pearce, IATA’s Chief Economist, told GreenAir his team had been exploring the implications of the ‘flight-shaming’ movement in Sweden but had not been able to make a direct link. “The Swedes put on a travel tax in 2018 and we have also seen economic and currency weakness in the country, and we consider those factors pretty much explain the fall in air travel.” He conceded there had been a small shift from air to rail travel, particularly on city pairs with high-speed train connections.
“At the moment, we don’t see consumers reducing their travel but it’s clearly a key issue for the future,” he said.
Europe, though, was a mature market and most of the growth in travel was coming from countries like China, India and Indonesia, he added. “It would be a mistake to prevent airlines there from growing. What is critical is to decouple the growth in air travel from emissions.”
The number of trips per person is forecast by IATA to increase by 4-8% per year for many emerging countries but could be as high as 10-11% in the case of China and India. In contrast, trip frequency is likely to grow much more slowly, just 1-2%, in the developed countries.
According to IATA, the global fleet in 2019 is estimated at 29,805 aircraft, a growth of just 1.0% over 2018 – much lower than previous years – but is expected to increase by 5.3% in 2020 to 31,375 aircraft, partly as a result of the anticipated return to service in 2020 of the currently grounded Boeing 737 MAX and also new deliveries.
“Load factors have picked up this year but there are a lot of aircraft deliveries due to come,” said Pearce. “Next year, capacity will accelerate above passenger growth, particularly in North America but less so in Europe where climate issues are forcing airlines to replace older aircraft with more fuel-efficient models.”
Fuel use is forecast to rise from an estimated 363 billion litres in 2019 to 371 billion litres in 2020 (+2.3%), with a corresponding increase in CO2 emissions from 915 Mt to 936 Mt. The airline industry’s fuel spend in 2019 is estimated at around $188 billion but is expected to fall to $182 billion – representing 22.1% of average operating costs – as a result of the delaying effect of hedging and the continuation of low oil prices.
IATA expects overall industry fuel efficiency, in terms of capacity use, to improve by 2.1% in 2020, up from an anticipated 1.9% in 2019, as a result of the growth in new aircraft deliveries. It said the annual average per RTK fuel efficiency improvement from 2009 to 2014 stands at 2.4%, compared to the 1.5% industry target. The airline body said carbon emissions per passenger have declined by more than 50% since 1990, with around $1 trillion invested in new aircraft since 2009.
The expected fuel efficiency gain in 2019 would save over 17 Mt of CO2 and $3.3 billion in industry fuel costs, estimates IATA.
Passenger numbers are expected to reach 4.72 billion in 2020, up 4.0% on 2019, with a passenger traffic (RPKs) growth of 4.1%, similar to 2019 but below historical trends.
Attended by around 200 journalists from around the world, this year’s Global Media Days event dedicated a half day to aviation and the environment, covering carbon offsetting, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), emissions reduction from air traffic management, single-use plastic and waste and future aircraft technology developments.
Michel Adam, IATA’s Senior Manager, Aviation Environment, said getting 193 countries to agree on CORSIA, the first-ever carbon pricing instrument adopted for a single sector at a global level, had been a very challenging task, with countries having different priorities in terms of economic development and the environment.
“It is a significant achievement and should not be underestimated,” he said. “For many, carbon-neutral growth and CORSIA are not enough, for others it is too ambitious but what I think matters is that CORSIA is going to mitigate in the region of 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 over the next 15 years and provide around $40 billion investment in climate projects.”
He said the priority for the industry remains in in-sector reductions. “When an aircraft emits one tonne of CO2, it is actually burning around $200 worth of fuel so there is a very strong incentive for airlines from a financial perspective to reduce actual consumption,” he said. “Obviously the industry is well aware of its responsibilities to mitigate its impact and offsetting compensates for what airlines cannot otherwise achieve.”
Adam said a global approach to mitigation through ICAO had to remain the priority and States needed to commit to full implementation of the CORSIA resolution they had agreed to in 2016, along with finalisation of criteria and eligibility on sustainable aviation fuels and emissions units.
He called for the global approach to be supported by effective policies at the national level, such as delivering on infrastructure improvements and air traffic management reforms.
“We also need a lot of support for SAF uptake and R&D in radically new technologies,” he added. “When we look at carbon pricing at the national level, it is absolutely critical that what States put in place for domestic aviation is compatible with CORSIA and supports what has been agreed at the global level.”
IATA announced it is about to partner with carbon exchange solution provider CBL Markets to assist airlines in their upcoming CORSIA compliance and help ensure they invest in eligible carbon credits.
“Those credits will be listed on an exchange just as soon as ICAO is in a position to publish a list of credits accepted under the scheme,” said Michael Gill, IATA’s Director, Aviation Environment, who said trialling would begin in the first quarter of 2020 with interested airlines. “This is a big milestone for airlines on the climate action journey and a very exciting development.”