The airline industry is on the defensive against climate
activists as the aviation arm of the United Nation convenes Tuesday for an
11-day assembly in Montreal.
"Flying is not the enemy," IATA director general
Alexandre de Juniac said on a conference call with the media Tuesday morning. "Flying
allows people to connect. It's a great achievement that makes our world a
better place. The real enemy is carbon."
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
Assembly, a triennial meeting that lasts through Oct. 4, falls as the airline
industry faces intense scrutiny over its carbon emissions and environmental
impact. On Friday, teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who
pioneered the flight-shaming movement in Scandinavia, will lead a protest in
Montreal. Airlines account for approximately 2.5% of carbon emissions globally.
Sure to be a major topic at the ICAO Assembly is CORSIA, the
carbon reduction and offsetting scheme. CORSIA aims to cap airline emissions on
international flights at 2020 levels. Airlines with emissions that exceed that
level will be required to purchase carbon-offset credits. The scheme goes into
effect in 2021.
The airline industry has also committed to a goal of
reducing emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2050.
That commitment, however, is viewed by some as weak amid
calls for net-zero emissions on a global scale by 2050. This summer, the U.K.
became the largest economy in the world to adopt that target.
During the 11-day session, ICAO is scheduled to discuss an
update on the guiding policy statement of CORISA, and pressure to strengthen
the program's objectives is likely.
Going into the assembly, IATA cautioned governments against
undermining CORSIA by unilaterally levying carbon taxes on airlines. Such
moves, said de Juniac, throw the program out of balance and could harm the
widespread support the scheme enjoys from countries around the world.
De Juniac said that the airline industry has already cut
carbon emissions per trip by 50% since 1990. But the industry hasn't done
enough to communicate its commitment to the climate.
"We tell people that they should be informed about what
we have done," he said. "We haven't discovered this a couple weeks
ago based upon protests here and there."