IATA chief: 'Flying is not the enemy'

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IATA chief: 'Flying is not the enemy'
Photo Credit: Cubrazol/Shutterstock

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."

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