Frank Harrison is regional security director, UK & North America, at World Travel Protection
The recent COP26 conference in Glasgow drove home the message that we – as individuals, as organisations and as an industry – all have responsibility for reducing our environmental impact and implementing behavioural changes that can play their part in doing so.
Sadly, the realities of climate change are more evident than ever. We are now witnessing widespread wildfires across the Western United States and on the islands and mainland of Greece, unprecedented rainfall in Greenland, and the human impacts of deforestation in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia.
The effects of the increasing intensity of significant weather events globally and the resulting implications of loss and recovery, whether financial or a lack of available resources, mean we can no longer ignore climate change and its impact on businesses.
Environmental-related risks are fast becoming the paramount issue for insurers; and unlike risks with known and quantifiable ratings, climate change has an over-arching effect impacting many factors, from global supply chains to potentially destabilising civil societies.
The failure to protect our environment and the impacts of increasingly destructive severe weather and natural disasters poses a greater risk than the combined threats of infectious diseases. The result may be mass migrations of people from impacted regions and political inability.
There is no switch to turn climate change off. It will require concerted and long-term efforts at all levels, from individuals to governments.
Travel in all its forms – the commute, leisure travel, business travel and the supply chain – all impact the environment. Globally, carbon calculators have become very effective at demonstrating this impact through measurable carbon footprints of activities. Understanding your organisation’s carbon footprint and creating the transparency for business and individuals is the first step to addressing the effects of climate change as an organisation and to enable re-thinking and acting.
Before making decisions around sustainability policies, understanding your impact should be the driver to affect carbon footprint reduction planning. With over a year and a half of working from home for many people, digital interfaces have become common and accepted for most aspects of work.
Businesses need to weigh the cost-benefit over the net carbon footprint of travel. Is the travel core to business operations, development and relationship management? Can a digital interface suffice?
Companies should not only calculate the cost of a trip but also include the offsetting costs in case the trip cannot be avoided. Business should also aim to reduce the carbon footprint of their travellers and help individual employees make informed decisions.
Ask yourself this: as a business, do you address climate change risk within your travel risk management? Many businesses have well-developed business continuity programmes, crisis and emergency event management procedures, and travel assistance capabilities. An organisation’s business travel needs to focus on the traveller, the destination and the activity conducted.
The business traveller needs to be prepared, travel with confidence, be risk-aware, adapt, and be confident to leverage support. The easiest way to do this as an organisation is to provide travel assistance that engages your travellers with current and evolving information specifically for their journey.
Climate change brings many uncertainties, and your travellers will need to know that if they experience a weather event, environmental-related flight disruption, or a crisis or emergency event, that there is a means of emergency notification between employer and employee.
All businesses should be monitoring their carbon footprint, taking action to reduce it and, when the time comes for business travel, be prepared to deal with the effects of climate change.
Only two in five people would support increasing taxes as part of efforts to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions – but a majority are in favour of hiking the cost of air travel and banning petrol and diesel cars from city centres, new polling suggests.
In a YouGov poll for Sky News, more than three-quarters of respondents (76%) said they believed the world’s climate was changing as a result of human activity.
This compared to one in 10 (11%) who agreed the world’s climate was changing but disagreed it was because of human activity, while only 2% said the world’s climate was not changing.
More than half (52%) thought the cost of and upheaval caused by climate change, if Britain does not reduce carbon emissions, would be worse than the cost and upheaval required to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. This compared to 23% who thought the opposite and 25% who weren’t sure.
However, despite an overwhelming majority accepting man-made climate change, those who responded to the survey were split over how the issue should be tackled.
Two in five (40%) said they would support taxes being increased to help pay the costs of reducing Britain’s carbon emissions, with a greater proportion (44%) opposed.
There was majority support for increasing the cost of air travel (59% in support compared to 32% opposed), as well for banning petrol and diesel cars from city centres from 2030 (54% in support, 37% opposed).
But most respondents did not support increasing the cost of gas and electricity (78% opposed, 14% in support), increasing the cost of petrol or diesel (60% opposed, 32% in support), or increasing the cost of meat and dairy products (61% opposed, 31% in support).
One in five (22%) said they were most likely to purchase an electric car when they next buy a car, compared to 17% who said they would buy a petrol car and 7% who said they would buy a diesel car.
Two-thirds (66%) who said they would buy a petrol or diesel car said this was, among other reasons, because an electric car would be too expensive.
When asked how energy efficient their current home is, 62% said it was efficient while 28% said it was not.
Of those who believed their current home was not very energy efficient, 38% said improving its energy efficiency would be too expensive, among other reasons.
More than three in five (62%) said they had not been paying much attention, or no attention at all, to the Glasgow summit, while nearly two in five (39%) said they had been taking notice.
More than two-thirds (68%) were pessimistic that the world would make the necessary changes to limit the impact of climate change, with less than one-fifth (17%) optimistic.
Boris Johnson used the COP26 conference to urge world leaders to commit to action on reducing global warming.
But more than half (55%) of those surveyed believed the prime minister had done badly on providing global leadership on climate change, with less than a quarter (22%) thinking Mr Johnson had done well.
Prior to the conclusion of the Glasgow summit, less than one in 10 (9%) thought COP26 had been a success with more than one-fifth (42%) thinking it had not been one, although nearly half (49%) said they did not know.
Commenting on the findings of the poll, YouGov’s director of political research Anthony Wells said: “All in all, people believe in climate change and say we should address it, but are far less willing to pay for it.”
The full results of the YouGov survey can be found here.
Bellaliz Gonzalez had never heard of Midland, Michigan, before a white van dropped her off there in late May, 2020. The journey from her home in Miami, with twelve colleagues, had taken around twenty-two hours. She arrived to a region devastated by a recent flood: cracked roads, collapsed bridges. Gonzalez, a fifty-four-year-old asylum seeker from Venezuela, with neatly coiffed auburn hair, prided herself on remaining calm in dangerous situations. In Venezuela, she had worked as an environmental engineer and run several of the country’s national parks. But for the past three years, living in the U.S., she had turned to manual labor to make money. Earlier that week, she had been recruited to work with a franchise of a disaster-restoration company called Servpro, to help Midland recover. She carried her go bag, which contained steel-toed boots, thick jeans, and gold hoop earrings that helped her feel elegant while doing backbreaking work. At the job site, she received a neon-yellow vest that featured Servpro’s name on the back, and the words “Safety Starts with You.”
Gonzalez and her colleagues had rushed to Midland after a torrential downpour—the effects of Tropical Storm Arthur—had burst through two hydroelectric dams. Governor Gretchen Whitmer described the damage as “unlike anything we’ve seen in five hundred years.” Eighteen inches of water flooded the local courthouse; vehicles from a nearby vintage-car museum escaped, belly-up, from the destroyed showroom. Whitmer declared that restoring the region would be a “herculean undertaking.” Some twenty-five hundred buildings needed repairs. Particularly urgent, given the surging pandemic, were conditions at a hospital in the city, MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland, where one of the I.C.U.s had lost power.
Gonzalez is part of a new transitory workforce, made up largely of immigrants, many undocumented, who follow climate disasters around the country the way agricultural workers follow crops, helping communities rebuild. She’d addressed damage inflicted by hurricanes, fires, floods, and tornadoes across seven states, scrubbing mildew blooms and clearing pools of toxic sludge from universities, factories, and airports. The work seemed meaningful and occasionally made her feel like a lucky tourist: she sometimes stayed in the shambles of beachside resorts she couldn’t otherwise afford. But it felt risky, too. In 2019, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael, she gutted the insulation of a home without proper protective gear and felt little pieces of fibreglass cutting her skin. The same year, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, she helped demolish a serpentarium in North Carolina; the former owner, an eccentric herpetologist, had been murdered by his wife in the adjoining apartment. On the walls of the exhibits, placards had warned visitors of the effects of snake venom: “The bitten extremity swells to massive proportions . . . and your eyes weep blood.” Now the threat was the foul-smelling dust kicked up by the demolition, which left her coughing and wheezing.
Gonzalez and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Angelica, lived in Florida with Gonzalez’s sister, Enilsa. For months, Enilsa had been begging her to quit chasing catastrophes, and, after the pandemic began, she got a job at a McDonald’s. But the work was tedious, and paid poorly. Gonzalez and her daughter slept on twin couches in Enilsa’s living room. Angelica, a senior in high school and an aspiring graphic designer, hoped to go to college, but Gonzalez wasn’t sure she could afford it. In May, 2020, working an all-night shift, Gonzalez burned her forearm baking apple pies, and took it as a sign. Soon after, she saw a WhatsApp message from a group of Venezuelan storm workers noting a job offer from a small disaster-recovery labor broker called Back to New, based in Houston, that provided “on-demand workers, nationwide, 24/7.” It had a contract with a Servpro franchise and put out an urgent call for workers. The opportunity, the company promised, was “COVID-19 ready.”
Back to New sent more than a hundred workers to Midland from Florida and Texas, most of them Venezuelans. Many were experienced disaster workers, but some had recently been pushed into the work by pandemic debts. Leyda Yanes, a former attorney from Caracas, had worked at a bakery in Miami until it closed during the lockdowns. She had seen an ad from Back to New, and persuaded her husband, Jesús Delgado, an Uber driver, and their extended family to go to Midland. Workers told me that they had not been tested for covid or made to wear a mask. Gonzalez wore one, and, in the van, a young woman scolded her: “Don’t you know that you’re breathing your own air in that thing? You’ll cause permanent lung damage.”
In Midland, the group found conditions that were far from “COVID-19 ready.” They were taken to a local hotel, where they learned that they’d be sleeping four to a room, two to a bed. Gonzalez and others would be cleaning floodwater and damaged goods out of the Midland hospital, including its morgue. Workers said that daily meetings were held indoors and were crowded, as was the group’s work area; they were given inadequate protective gear that quickly ran out. (Back to New denied any wrongdoing during the project.) At the end of Gonzalez’s shift, she and Yanes would scour the ground for discarded latex gloves to wash and reuse. Reinaldo Quintero, a broad-shouldered worker from Maracaibo, the city where Gonzalez grew up, belted gaita music, a regional genre, and recruited Delgado to sing along.
Still, Gonzalez couldn’t let go of her worries. She asked a supervisor why they weren’t having the temperature checks they’d been guaranteed. “The thermometer’s broken,” the woman replied, shrugging. One day, around 6 A.M., Gonzalez and other workers climbed into vans bound for the hospital. “Where’s Reinaldo?” Delgado asked. Someone replied, “He’s not feeling well.” Gonzalez’s bedmate was also ill. “Maybe it’s just the changing weather?” Gonzalez suggested. She soon learned that Quintero had been tested for COVID-19. Later, she felt a pounding headache.
On Saturday night, Gonzalez and several other workers decided to call Saket Soni, an organizer whom Gonzalez had met a few years earlier. Soni runs a nonprofit, called Resilience Force, that advocates for the fast-growing group of disaster-restoration laborers. As the workers follow storms, the organization follows them, trying to fight wage theft, avert injury, and generally prevent the kinds of disasters-within-disasters that pervade the industry. Soni is forty-three, with dark hair and owlish glasses, and an air of intense curiosity. That night, he was at his apartment in Washington, D.C., cooking an elaborate meal of octopus vindaloo. When he answered the phone, a group of workers clamored on the other end. Then Gonzalez came on the line. “Saket, it’s bad,” she said. “I think we’re contaminados.”
Apocalyptic weather has pushed many Americans into a belated recognition of the climate emergency. In the Pacific Northwest, temperatures surged past a hundred and ten degrees in June, killing more than two hundred people. In the Southwest, a “megadrought” dropped water levels to a once-in-a-millennium low. This past summer, Hurricane Ida sent Biblical rains through the roofs of homes across the Gulf Coast, then pushed north, killing at least eleven people in flooded basement apartments in New York City. But, even as awareness grows about what President Joe Biden calls our “code red” extreme-weather threat, most Americans know little about the labor crisis tucked within it.
The work of disaster recovery has always been gruelling. When the most lethal storm in U.S. history hit Galveston, Texas, in 1900, as Al Roker describes it in his book “The Storm of the Century,” “white soldiers forced Black men at gunpoint to the front lines of the most horrifying labor that any city could ever face,” which included loading hundreds of corpses onto a barge to be dumped at sea. After the Great Okeechobee Hurricane struck southern Florida, in 1928, three-fourths of those killed were migrant agricultural workers, most of them Black. Local officials conscripted the survivors to bury the dead in mass graves—pine coffins were primarily reserved for white victims—and, when some refused, they were denied food, or shot dead.
Today, the structure of the industry has radically transformed. For much of the twentieth century, many disaster-restoration businesses were mom-and-pop shops; they earned mostly modest revenues for repairing mostly modest problems (a house burned down by a stray cigarette, a chimney felled in a storm), and occasionally got windfalls when an outsized catastrophe struck. The work was done mainly by local laborers. In recent years, though, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities have made extreme weather more common and more intense. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted a new U.S. record in 2020: a total of twenty-two “billion-dollar disasters.” Insurance companies paid out at least seventy-six billion dollars for repairs that year, and the government paid more than a hundred billion. “We’re going to spare no expense,” Biden told the Federal Emergency Management Agency this past May, announcing that he would double its funds to prepare for extreme weather.
As money poured in, companies consolidated, and began to chase extreme weather across the country, competing for insurance payouts and government contracts. Quality Awning & Construction was founded in 1946 in Dearborn, Michigan, to handle small fix-up jobs around town. By 1989, the firm had changed its name, and the brothers who ran it began sending caravans of workers to storms in other states. In 2001, the firm was sold for an estimated two hundred million dollars to Belfor USA Group, an emerging industry heavyweight then run by Mark Davis and Jeff Johnson. Today, the company does upward of two billion dollars in business annually. As Forbes put it, “Climate change is good for Belfor.” Servpro, similarly, was founded as a family-owned painting business in 1967, and now has nineteen hundred locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Emanuele Scansani, director of partnerships and strategic relations, Riskline
Having obliterated the travel world for nearly two years, the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022 will no longer be the primary risk to business travellers, nor the principal duty of care concern for travel managers.
While it’s impossible to predict precisely what will happen next year, our worldwide network of risk intelligence specialists analyse information from trusted sources and use their deep understanding of repeated patterns of human behaviour to interpret this and suggest what may happen. And in 2022 we expect Covid-19 to be among a raft of risk and duty of care concerns as business travellers get back on the road again.
Safety, security and sustainability will be the prime considerations in 2022. Covid-19 is sure to be in the top five travel risks again, but the impact of climate change in its broadest sense is likely to have the greatest influence.
Firstly, what travel managers are requesting from their suppliers has changed; they want detailed sustainability information as they must consider their company’s carbon footprint. This is closely aligned with the rise of purposeful travel – thinking about the ROI of travel before booking, travelling directly by the most eco-friendly mode of transport possible, and taking into consideration any negative impact on communities along the way.
Equally of concern is how climate change is affecting weather patterns and the number of natural disasters we are seeing today. Storms, wildfires, extreme temperatures and monsoons continue to be more severe and to disrupt travel – so too volcanic eruptions.
One of the consequences of this extreme weather is large-scale forced migration which creates havoc on particular routes and at borders. What is happening between Belarus, Poland and Germany, and from North Africa to Italy and through Turkey are good examples.
Geopolitical changes will also add new tensions to the world order, potentially introducing new considerations for travellers and travel managers. The Biden administration’s isolationist approach has left space for other countries like China, for instance, to increase their dominance in Hong Kong, and flex their muscles in Taiwan and the South China Sea, while in Europe there is set to be a change in the power balance following Angela Merkel’s leadership in Germany.
Unfortunately, terrorism is likely to return as the level of hatred and anger increases, with not only Islamist attacks but also right-wing extremists continuing to be a potent threat. Travellers need to be more vigilant than ever about such threats and ensure that they have the best possible information sources and avoid local rumours.
In 2021 there have been several major cyber attacks such as the Colonial Pipeline breach and the ransomware attack on Brenntag. Without any new deterrents, further attacks are likely in 2022 as businesses, governments and organisations continue to migrate more business functions and operations to the digital world.
Of course, Covid-19 is still with us and remains a significant threat to travellers. Although many countries have rolled out vaccination programmes, many lower income countries have not double-vaccinated more than half their populations – and some far less.
At the same time, the long-term efficacy of the vaccines is uncertain. The rising number of cases in the UK is partially due to the need to give a booster to those who were vaccinated early in the year. What’s more, the possibility of new variants that are not suppressed by existing vaccines remains a threat. On top of this, anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protests are likely to create scenarios in city centres that travellers should be informed to avoid.
Compared with the extensive disruptions in 2020 and 2021, travel in 2022 may be slightly easier and less uncertain, but trusted sources of up-to-date information about potential threats will remain vital.
Gov. John Bel Edwards will travel to Scotland this week for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties.
There, he will make the case that while Louisiana is “suffering severe consequences related to the world’s changing climate,” no state is better positioned to be a leader in the changing energy landscape.
The Governor will be joined by cabinet secretaries and advisors, including members and staffers of his Climate Initiatives Task Force, to help shape the international discussion about climate change, cleaner energy, and creating sustainable communities in the face of a changing climate.
The Governor and his team will depart on October 28 and will attend COP26 and related meetings beginning on October 31 until November 4.
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As aviation struggles to emerge from the historic, pandemic-driven downturn, another longer-term challenge already looms. Concern about air travel’s contribution to climate change threatens to curtail growth of an industry that has expanded steadily for decades, shrinking the world for travelers and connecting the global economy.
The airline industry, contending with growing political pressure in Europe and recently even in Seattle for new restrictions on flying, this month formally committed to a target of “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.
To achieve that, governments and industry will have to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure in the coming decade. Further out, Boeing and Airbus will have to develop dramatically new airplane designs.
For the flying public, all outcomes in the years ahead point to an increase in the cost of flying.
Yet that distant net-zero emissions target is so radical, and the proposed technology solutions so uncertain, that aviation risks falling far short.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury recently warned that if the industry’s new push for climate sustainability fails, governments could force a reduction in air travel by banning some of the flying that is routine today — a major step back after more than 100 years of passenger flights.
“Aviation has a very important role on the planet to connect people and to contribute to prosperity,” he said at a two-day aviation sustainability summit convened by Airbus in France last month. “We are at a point where this is in danger if we don’t manage to transition and succeed in the decarbonization of the sector.”
This is “the number one matter of discussion in the industry, even more than COVID now,” he added.
Under pressure, the world’s major airlines have firmly committed to one key technology that will dominate aviation’s environmental push in the coming decade: Sustainable Aviation Fuel, or SAF.
For the plane manufacturers, the major costs and big risks will come later.
In the coming decade, Airbus and Boeing will make money from the airlines’ push for sustainability by promoting the sale of new, more efficient jets to replace older planes that burn more gas and produce more carbon emissions. But further out, the plane builders will need to develop dramatically new technologies.
Airbus is already aggressively pursuing research to develop by 2035 a zero-emission, short-haul airliner powered with hydrogen. That research is largely funded by European governments.
Boeing contends that hydrogen-powered aircraft won’t be realistic until as late as 2050. But as Mike Sinnett, Boeing vice president of product development, recently said, “whatever the next airplane is, we recognize sustainability is going to be a driving factor.”
After the world’s airlines announced the new “net zero by 2050” goal at this month’s annual conference of the International Air Transport Association, IATA Director General Willie Walsh demanded a big technology leap from Airbus and Boeing.
“It’s not good enough that we get incremental change in efficiency with the aircraft,” Walsh said. “To get to net zero we’re going to need a fundamental change.”
The latest definitive scientific study estimates that aviation contributes a net 3.5% of total human-induced climate impact. Cleaning it up has become a focus of those who see an existential crisis in climate change.
“There is a limited time for a life-altering change for my generation and my children’s generation,” said Sarah Shifley, a lawyer who volunteers on the aviation team of climate activist group 350 Seattle.
This summer, 350 Seattle mounted a campaign opposing a planned expansion of flights at Boeing Field, where corporate jets and cargo aircraft, as well as Boeing delivery and test flights, fly in and out.
Locally, the Puget Sound Regional Council that makes long-term decisions about transportation needs — and is weighing the need for one or more new airports — projects takeoffs and landings in the region will double by 2050 to over 800,000. In similar fashion, Boeing projects the world’s fleet of airliners doubling by 2040, driven by growth in emerging economies.
That’s an appalling prospect to Shifley.
“After the summer we’ve had, of heat domes and hurricanes and floods and fires, it’s unfathomable to me to be considering doubling” air traffic, she said.
Elsewhere, particularly in Europe, flying is already being curbed by government policy. France in April banned domestic flights between cities with a train connection of less than 2.5 hours. Various government agencies and organizations around Europe have imposed similar bans on short-haul flights for employee business travel.
At the Airbus sustainability summit, Andrew Murphy, aviation director at Transport & Environment, a nonprofit that campaigns for clean transportation, said planned expansion of airports in Europe should stop.
He called for mandates with strict timelines to spur the decarbonization of aviation.
“What would drive innovation and drive focus in the sector is if we were to say, by 2035, we will end the sale of jet aircraft for short-haul flights in Europe,” Murphy said.
Ross Macfarlane, a vice president at both the Sierra Club and the Clean Energy Transition Institute, which seeks to cut carbon emissions out of the Pacific Northwest economy, said the U.S. needs to look at high-speed rail and other alternatives to flying.
He said the COVID-19 lockdown has demonstrated there are “ways to do business that are frankly more efficient than jumping on a plane at the drop of a hat.”
Yet he acknowledges how critical aviation is to modern life and the global economy. “It’s both unrealistic and not in society’s interest to take a stance of simply advocating for aviation to go away. It’s not going to happen,” he said.
Science and uncertainty
Jet airplane engines burn a lot of fuel. Alaska Airlines alone burns 750 million gallons per year.
Alaska provided data for a Boeing 737-900ER flight Oct. 6 from Seattle to Philadelphia: It burned 4,388 gallons of jet fuel, or about 24 gallons per passenger, counting bags and some extra cargo.
Yet driving that 2,800-mile trip in a typical family car would use about 112 gallons of gas, making it less fuel efficient even with four people in the car.
The most recent comprehensive scientific analysis of aviation’s impact on the atmosphere over time — published in January in the journal Atmospheric Environment and cited by both climate activists and the industry — estimated the sector’s contribution as 3.5% of total human-induced climate change based on 2011 global flight data.
That’s the same percentage calculated by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change more than two decades ago based on 1992 flight data.
Though aviation grew enormously between 1992 and 2011 as the world’s fleet of airliners more than doubled, the increasingly efficient airplanes burned less fuel. Meanwhile, other human-induced climate impacts grew as fast so that percentage contribution was constant.
Sean Newsum, director of environmental sustainability strategy at Boeing, said one can infer “that aviation emissions are growing at a rate no greater than the global emissions overall.”
The Atmospheric Environment analysis estimates that only a third of aviation’s 3.5% net contribution to climate change is from its CO2 emissions, with the largest contribution coming from airplane contrails.
A jet contrail — the line of what looks like white smoke that sometimes trails an airplane — is not an emission from the airplane. It’s water vapor that is already in the air around the plane that’s triggered to condense, forming ice particles.
While contrails often disappear completely in a short period, under certain atmospheric conditions they persist as diffuse cirrus clouds that reflect back terrestrial radiation, with a net warming effect.
The conclusion that aviation’s non-CO2 impact on the climate — mostly from contrails, but also from soot particles, nitrogen oxides and other trace emissions — is twice as large as that from its CO2 emissions alone is often cited with alarm by climate activists.
However, there’s great scientific uncertainty around the climate impact of the non-CO2 emissions.
A lead author of the Atmospheric Environment paper, David Fahey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, said in an interview that modeling the effect of contrails is complex, producing calculations with such wide probability ranges that the warming impact is “of uncertain magnitude.”
Speaking at the Airbus sustainability summit, another leading climate expert, Drew Shindell, professor of earth science at Duke University, said the impact of contrails “really is still up for debate in the scientific community” and is “probably not such an enormous problem.”
That suggests aviation’s total net contribution to climate change could be significantly less than 3.5% of the total human-induced impact.
Fahey said climate scientists aim to provide policymakers the best available data, while also laying out all the uncertainties.
“People are throwing rocks at aviation,” he said. “It’s complicated.”
At the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, which convenes at the end of this month in Glasgow, Scotland, countries around the world will commit to new targets to lower emissions.
As a global business, aviation has until now fallen outside the scope of those national targets, its goals set instead by the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization, which is heavily influenced by the world’s airlines.
However, as conference host, the U.K. is launching the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition in Glasgow to try to get more countries to sign a substantive declaration on aviation emissions.
Clearly, if aviation is to avoid regional restrictions being imposed on flying, major industry players will have to convince the public and governments that they are taking real action.
Airbus CEO Faury is confident his engineers will have a hydrogen-powered short-haul airplane ready by 2035, though the jet maker won’t have to commit significant investment of its own until it formally launches an airplane program around 2027.
At the IATA conference in Boston, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Stan Deal expressed his doubts that hydrogen-powered airliners can be ready in that time frame.
First, there’s the complexity of a totally new airplane design. Deal pointed out that liquid hydrogen occupies 18% more volume than current jet fuel and must be wrapped in cryogenic equipment to keep it cooled to -418°F. Designing such a system, he said, presents “some physics problems.”
Certifying it as safe to fly also will be a major hurdle. As Boeing’s Sinnett expressed it, “To have a safe system that can carry liquid hydrogen and be as safe as we are with jet fuel today, that might be bigger and heavier than you want to put on an airplane.”
Even Airbus acknowledges it will take far longer to develop hydrogen power for large, long-haul aircraft.
In addition, hydrogen production requires lots of electricity — and if that comes from a carbon-dirty source, there’s no net climate benefit in using it as fuel. So energy companies will have to vastly scale up production of “green hydrogen,” produced from sustainable sources.
And then airports around the world will have to invest in the cryogenic tank infrastructure and equipment needed to dispense the liquid hydrogen to airplanes.
Hydrogen, Sinnett said, “is not ready for prime time yet. It’s a longer-term play.”
While Boeing has worked with NASA on various futuristic “green airplane” concepts, for now it offers the prospect of only incremental technology tweaks to its current planes.
Otherwise, it promotes SAF as the potential solution to aviation’s climate impact — a technology being developed and paid for not by the manufacturers but by alternative energy startups with government support.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel
On that, Faury and Airbus agree: If the industry is to meet the net zero goal, it cannot wait for hydrogen and must over the next three decades dramatically scale up the use of SAF.
Yet that too is a difficult technological goal.
SAF is a hydrocarbon fuel typically produced from biomass feedstock such as waste oils or plant debris and purified so that the final liquid is essentially identical to current jet fuel.
When SAF burns in a jet engine, it produces exactly the same carbon emissions. Nevertheless, it’s deemed “sustainable” because the life cycle of those emissions shows the carbon being absorbed from the air by plants, then recycled back to the air.
This contrasts with fossil fuel, where the carbon going into the air had previously been sequestered underground for millions of years.
If SAF is carefully produced using the cleanest methods, it’s touted as providing a life-cycle reduction in carbon emissions of between 50% and 80% compared with fossil fuels.
Because SAF can be simply dropped in a tank instead of jet fuel, neither the design of the airplane nor the fueling infrastructure at the airport need to change.
The problem is producing SAF in sufficient quantities at an affordable price.
The small quantities produced today cost five to seven times as much as jet fuel. Though demonstration flights have flown on SAF, it makes up less than 1% of the aviation fuel currently used.
To hit its net zero emissions target, IATA wants that scaled up so that 65% of all aviation fuel is SAF by 2050.
Macfarlane of the Sierra Club believes SAF can work, while acknowledging that “skepticism is well justified.”
“There are many proposals out there for biofuels that would be used for aviation, that aren’t sustainable and aren’t really scalable,” he said.
Identifying truly sustainable sources is problematic. Imported palm oil, for example, the cause of deforestation in Southeast Asia, is unacceptable. And producers must consider what land use is displaced by growing the feedstock.
Still, momentum and investment are building to overcome these obstacles. Multiple SAF projects are in the works in the U.S. and around the world.
Oil giant Shell has committed to produce 2 million metric tons of SAF per year by 2025, though to be clear, that’s less than 1% of aviation’s annual fuel needs.
The Bend, Oregon-based U.S. subsidiary of alternative fuels startup SkyNRG plans to build a plant for producing such jet fuel out of landfill waste. Boeing has a deal with SkyNRG to tap that proposed facility for its own aviation fuel needs.
The Department of Energy in September awarded $64.7 million in new funding for biofuels, with SkyNRG getting $1 million of that.
With coal and gas climate change provisions already cut from President Joe Biden’s proposed social spending legislation, Sen. Maria Cantwell is pushing to retain $1 billion for SAF research and tax credits so as to stimulate production of 3 billion gallons of SAF per year in the U.S. by 2030 — about 10% of U.S. airline fuel needs.
Major companies keen to burnish their own sustainability credentials are putting money into jump-starting SAF production.
Microsoft has agreed to pay Alaska Airlines for SAF, expensive as it is, to be used on certain West Coast routes frequently flown by its employees.
At the Airbus summit, John Holland-Kaye, CEO of London’s Heathrow Airport, said that without sustainability “we won’t have a business.”
“It may well be that the flying does cost a little bit more,” he said. “But that will be a price worth paying.”
Chris Woodford, a science and technology writer for adults and children and author of the new book “Breathless: Why Air Pollution Matters — And How it Affects You,” says that overall, the calculations can get too complicated to establish whether staying at a hotel is better or worse for the environment than renting a house on Airbnb. But you can still try to spend your travel dollars supporting accommodations that are investing in greener practices, e.g., a hotel in a LEED certified building, one that uses biodegradable key cards, mobile check-in or solar power.
A call for immediate action to avoid a “climate tragedy” has been issued by Abdulla Shahid, president of the United Nations General Assembly during remarks at Expo 2020 in Dubai.
Shahid, who is also minister of foreign affairs for the Maldives, was speaking during the second day of the Climate & Biodiversity Week at the event.
Delivering his opening remarks for the People’s Promise for Climate Impact event, said: “When we talk about climate change, we can no longer afford to indulge in the delusion that we are talking about a distant threat that policy-makers can negotiate in their own pace.
“We cannot deny what is happening right in front of us – the effects of human-induced climate change are clear for all of us to see.”
He added: “It is our responsibility to acknowledge the severity of the situation and, having said that, it is also our responsibility not to give in to cynicism or give credence that the climate tragedy is inevitable.
“Hope when combined with action and change, is actually the winning formula – and let us embrace it.”
The event together young change-makers and notable climate leaders to provide a diverse range of perspectives on how to collectively scale positive action.
Climate & Biodiversity Week is the first of the ten theme weeks running over the next six months, anchoring the Programme for People and the Planet at Expo.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us as a species.
Human activity over the past 200 years has left us standing on the brink of an environmental disaster – but it is not too late to make a change.
Weather presenter Alex Beresford has been finding out about the small, positive ways we can minimise our impact on the environment as part of a new series on ITV News.
As part of the series Alex met Jo, who works for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and she shared her top tips on how we can all make a difference.
4 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint
You can reduce your carbon footprint through switching to clean energy sources, changing the way you travel, and reducing your consumption by recycling and reusing everything.
Here’s a detailed look at what that means…
1. Reduce your energy use and switch to renewable energy
As energy is primarily generated by the burning of fossil fuels, one of the most important things to do is to reduce energy consumption and to switch to renewable energy sources.
If it is possible, you can switch your home energy supply to a green energy plan or change to a 100% renewable energy provider.
Reduce energy consumption by properly insulating your home with appropriate heat trapping or cooling materials that will reduce the amount of energy needed to warm or cool your home.
“Draft-proofing your windows and doors is good,” Jo explained. “And in the winter, turning down your thermostat by one degree does actually cut 10% off bills.
“It does get cold in the winter so it can be hard but something to think about anyway.
“And electricity-wise, it’s a good idea to turn off appliances on stand-by and making sure you turn off lights.”
2. Change the way you travel
Cycle or walk whenever possible, or use an electric bike or scooter.
Use public transport (bus, tram, train) instead of a private car.
If you have no choice but to use a car, think about ride-sharing instead of travelling individually.
If you are buying a new or second hand car, opt for more environmentally friendly electric vehicles if you can.
Restrict your flights substantially and opt for direct flights whenever possible.
Jo said: “Top tips from us in terms of how to cut emissions from transport, the first is journeys under five miles.
“Even under two miles – 60% of those are taken by car at the moment in the UK.
“So, really just increasing the amount you walk and cycle for those really short journeys. And for longer journeys, if it’s possible, taking public transport.
“And if you are driving, making sure your tyres are pumped up, you’re driving smoothly and efficiently. There’s little small ways you can cut emissions by the way you drive.
“If you’re flying, the key thing to say is we should all be flying a bit less.”
3. Change what you eat
One of the best things you can do for our planet is to substantially increase the number of fruits and vegetables you eat.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet with a larger proportion and a wide variety of plant-based foods, only buying meat and fish from sustainable sources, and not wasting food, all help to protect the planet.
4. Change how much you buy and who you buy from
Reduce your consumption overall.
Choose recycled products and remember to recycle things you no longer need.
Support companies who have strong sustainable values and practices.
“The main thing is use less if you can, and use things you can refill – so glass bottles, for example,” Jo added.
“I suppose that is the main tip – try to use less.”