Nora Lovell Marchant, vice president global sustainability,
American Express Global Business Travel
The agreements that world leaders forge at COP26 are meant
to chart a clearer course to achieving climate targets, but it will ultimately
fall to business to fulfil many of these solutions. It’s the private sector
that drives the investment, innovation and technology development that’s necessary
to shift the planet to net zero.
However, many organisations are unsure how to reduce their
own emissions and have yet to formulate action plans. More than half of the FTSE
100 don’t have net-zero targets set, and less than a quarter have
scientifically approved plans to reach net zero.
Aviation comprises nearly 3 per cent of global carbon
emissions and business travel is a significant contributor. But travel isn’t
the problem – carbon is the problem. In fact, business travel can power
progress on sustainability. The sector is strategically positioned to help organisations
move the needle on net-zero. Business travel is a highly concentrated industry;
we have the influence – and ambition – to accelerate meaningful change.
Together we have the ability to coordinate across supply chains, sectors and borders to empower solutions and catalyse change
One of the recommendations to business from the independent
report to the UK Climate Change Commission is to ‘do the basics well – measure,
disclose, target, act, adjust’. The business travel sector can help drive this,
designing and implementing policies and programmes to support sustainability
targets. Travel managers and their partners can now pull several levers,
- Track and report, analysing emissions data for
- Influence choice, shifting travel decisions at
point of sale in booking tools.
- Procure sustainable products and services. One
small example; this year we worked with Cvent to create for the industry a template
of corporate responsibility and sustainability questions for the hotel RFP
- Promote offsets – that is, independently verified,
high-quality carbon credits.
- Drive towards net-zero aviation, which is
economically and technically challenging – yet achievable with sustainable
aviation fuel (SAF).
SAF can offer an 80 per cent reduction in lifecycle carbon
emissions compared to fossil-based jet fuel. While it’s currently only
available in tiny quantities – 0.1 per cent of jet fuel available today – SAF
is the most viable option in the near and medium term to achieve net-zero
aviation. Other technologies are important and promising – but decades away
from creating real impact. Ramping up SAF production and deployment to meet
growing demand is a massive feat but we can achieve this, together.
Working in collaboration with Shell Aviation, GBT is helping
scale up SAF supply and demand by aggregating corporate demand and unlocking
investment and production. This is just one example of the type of innovative
partnerships that can be formed when we reach across value chains to bring all
corners of our industry together.
There are few industries in the world more international
than business travel. Together we have the ability to coordinate across supply chains,
sectors and borders to empower solutions and catalyse change. We need to lean
Another way we can work together is to unite in advocating
for government support and action. If we work to combine inventive practices with
policy, we can amplify the business travel industry’s positive impact.
There are some immediate asks around which we can speak as a
single, powerful voice to government. These include:
- International advocacy. The International
Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations, will
convene in less than a year to decide the fate of the global aviation sector on
sustainability. Let’s collectively call on ICAO to raise its ambition and
follow the precedent set by the International Air Transport Association (IATA)
and its 300 member airlines approving a resolution for the global air transport
industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- Domestic lobbying. National governments
have announced proposals for decarbonising aviation including the United
Kingdom SAF mandate consultation, the ReFuelEU Aviation Initiative, and the
United States SAF Grand Challenge. Let’s lobby our representatives to expeditiously
pass concrete legislation that will create the regulatory certainty necessary
to facilitate private sector investment.
- In-sector solutions. SAF viability
depends upon governments incentivising production and usage with appropriate
financial stimulus. Let’s voice that government mandates are important – but
insufficient to increase production at the scale required to meet net zero by
2050 without fiscal support. Regulatory financing mechanisms include fiscal
policy, tax credits and incentives, public-private partnerships and grants.
- Out-of-sector solutions. Credible carbon
credits provide a climate finance mechanism to mobilise public and private
investment into nature-based solutions. Governments of 100 nations at COP26
pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, covering 85 per cent of the
world’s forests. Carbon offsets are the only immediately available option for
mitigating 100 per cent of business travel emissions. Let’s mobilise
governments to invest in high-integrity carbon offsets and recognise that the
airline industry is an ally in combating deforestation.
The challenges brought on by the pandemic have shown how our
industry can be resilient, resourceful and collaborative – when we galvanise around
a cause, we can spur government support and action. There is no greater threat
to our industry and our planet than climate change. But there are steps we can
take together – travel managers, TMCs, partners, suppliers and beyond – to
drive progress towards net zero at scale and speed.