Why aviation industry needs to embrace green operations- ICAO


The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has warned that the aviation industry needs to prepare for severe disruptions as a result of climate change and that it needs to make full use of clean technology and policy tools in order to reduce its carbon footprint.

ICAO’s 2016 Environmental Report says that changes to the atmosphere, brought about by rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions, will affect airplane’s ability to fly, while rising sea levels will affect airports.

At the same time, airports can become more sustainable, for example by running almost entirely on renewable energy, and the sector can make use of carbon markets and the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism to offset emissions.

Impacts will include higher winds impeding the ability of aircraft to take off and an increase in-flight turbulence, icing up incidents and engine-threatening dust storms.

Scheduling departures at cooler hours is already common practice in the Middle East and Central and South America.

The report notes that rising sea levels will affect coastal airports, with 20 of Norway’s 46 airports deemed “quite exposed” to future rises.

The effect of climate change on the jet stream wind patterns will modify optimal flight routes, journey times and fuel consumption and increase the likelihood of turbulence even in “clear air” conditions.

Warming trends also increase the risk of en-route airplane icing, while drought periods and harsher winds are likely to increase the occurrence and intensity of dust storms that will affect the performance and maintenance requirements of jet engines.

In its report, ICAO is emphasizes the importance of industry adaptation and resilience while continuing to take climate action by reducing the sector’s high carbon intensity.

As well as looking into sustainable alternative fuels, ICAO notes that innovative technology offers the potential of reducing an airplane’s carbon footprint. Aircraft produced today are 80 percent more fuel efficient than those built in the 1960s.

The Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection’s (CAEP) new CO2 emissions certification standard for airplanes, the first global standard for CO2 emissions of any sector, will apply to new airplane type designs from 2020 and to airplane type designs that are already in production in 2023, ensuring planes are as energy efficient as possible.

While there are limits to how much fuel a heavy passenger or cargo plane can save, the ICAO report mentions the use of electric taxing systems for planes, so-called “e-Taxi” systems, and solar power for domestic aircraft at-gate operations – thereby using renewable energy to keep power running when aircrafts are stationary.

Savings can also be made by greening airport infrastructure. Cochin International Airport in India is the first airport in the world that operates completely on solar power. More than 46,000 solar panels installed on 45 acres of land near the air cargo complex provide the airport with enough electricity to power all of its operational functions, making the airport “absolutely power neutral”.

In February of this year, ICAO announced that it has agreed an international carbon dioxide standard, which will lead to greater aircraft fuel efficiency, and the UN body is presently working on a market-based measure.

A central tool for offsetting carbon emissions is emissions trading and tools like the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Cap and trade works like this: Those entities under an emissions cap – factory, city, country, airline, etc. – that manage to reduce emissions below their cap can sell their excess emission units to entities that were unable to reduce emissions below their cap.

Similarly, CDM projects in developing countries can earn a saleable emission unit by reducing emissions below a business-as-usual baseline, which can be sold to an entity in need, such as an airline.

ICAO has been working with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to create the first aviation CDM methodologies.

The ICAO report identifies e-Taxi systems for planes and solar power for domestic aircraft at gate operations as two CDM methodologies that can be deployed by the aviation sector.

Even with mechanisms such as the CDM and the new market-based mechanism, it will be challenging for the aviation sector to decarbonize and there is no time to lose in developing and implementing effective clean technology and carbon trading schemes.

Airlines estimate that air travel will grow by an average of around 5% per year up to 2034.

According to a report by CarbonBrief, aviation emissions to 2050 could consume 27% of the remaining carbon budget for the world to have a realistic chance of keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels without adequate climate action.