For all the good that air travel does, the airline industry has a conspicuous, inherent flaw. This Achilles' heel has become particularly worrisome in recent years as the green movement has increased our awareness of carbon emissions and climate change. Put bluntly, it's a polluter.
Compared with power plants, factories and the legions of vehicles guzzling gas on the ground, the world's airlines point out that they are not particularly bad polluters. Aviation is thought to account for only about 3% of global carbon emissions, which doesn't seem so bad.
But airlines for the foreseeable future will continue burning fossil fuels. Without a major course change, international aviation's carbon emissions in the year 2050 could be four (or more) times their current levels.
Ordinarily we would say "somebody should do something," but given that aviation is a global industry whose emissions blanket the globe, this is really a situation where "everybody should do something."
Happily, everybody has.
By "everybody" we mean everybody represented at the recent Montreal assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a U.N. agency that sets technical standards and other aviation guidelines for 191 nations around the world.
They agreed to do something about carbon.
A much-anticipated resolution adopted in Montreal calls for the development, by 2016, of global "market-based measures" for reducing and/or offsetting carbon emissions.
If approved and adopted at the 2016 assembly, the plan would go into effect by 2020 with the goal of making all future growth in aviation carbon-neutral.
The resolution also establishes a goal for the industry to achieve a global annual average fuel efficiency improvement of 2% per year.
If you were holding out for the perfect solution, this isn't it. The target date is six years away, and in the meantime, individual countries or regions, such as the E.U., cannot unilaterally impose emission standards on foreign airlines that fly into their territory. Plus, there are exemptions in the resolution for airlines of developing nations that carry less than 1% of global traffic.
On the plus side, it's everybody.