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Ken Pole: Ottawa Perspective

We all appreciate cleaner air. Engines as well as lungs function better on it.


October 1, 2007
By Ken Pole

There was a flurry of excitement recently about the federal government
having persuaded most major automobile manufacturers to voluntarily
curb their products’ emissions of greenhouse gases so that Canada can
meet its unrealistic Kyoto Protocol climate change commitments. It’s
not that I’m against fewer emissions. We all appreciate cleaner air.
Engines as well as lungs function better on it.

However,
when the Air Transport Association of Canada committed to a similar
deal with Ottawa on cargo carriers this past winter, there was nothing
like the fanfare over the automotive deal. What possibly made the
latter more noteworthy is that the carmakers apparently came to the
negotiation table kicking and screaming. There was an echo from the
provinces which are home to the auto industry; they argued that their
economies would suffer because the industry accounts for fully 12% per
cent of Canada’s overall manufacturing gross domestic product.
Environment Minister Stéphane Dion had to threaten statutory caps to
get them onside. The debate at ATAC, more civilized and constructive
without losing sight of economic reality, has yielded a commitment to
encourage cargo operators to reduce their collective emissions by an
annual average of 1.1%. The goal is a cumulative improvement of 24% by
2012 from the 1990 base levels set out in the Kyoto Protocol, which was
finalized in 1997 as the enforcement mechanism of the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change. Transport Canada and ATAC will publish an
annual progress report.

The deal was done under the auspices of
the government’s Freight Efficiency & Technology Initiative (FETI),
whereby Transport Canada is working with all modes to moderate and,
ultimately, reverse the accelerating growth of emissions.

The
five-year FETI also underwrites demonstrations of energy-efficient
technologies and operating practices. To date, the program has
allocated more than $2.65 million to 21 projects.

Details of the
ATAC/Transport Canada package evidently are still being negotiated,
hopefully setting the stage for a formal memorandum of understanding
which, although not binding, essentially puts carriers’ money where
ATAC’s mouth is.

In the overall scheme of things, aviation isn’t
a huge contributor to global emissions. The most up-to-date numbers,
courtesy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, put it at
somewhere around 3.5%, rising to approximately 5% by mid-century as
global fleet fuel consumption triples to some 450 million tonnes.

In
Canada, aviation accounts for less than 2% of greenhouse gases. Power
stations and the petroleum industry are the main sources, followed by
automobile engines. Aviation is well down the list at 17th.

The
global slump in aircraft traffic in the aftermath of the September 2001
terrorist attacks in the US saw aviation’s emissions decline in 2002
and 2003. However, the International Civil Aviation Organization’s
environmental protection committee cites above-average growth last year
and expects a return to traditional traffic patterns this year,
renewing pressure on the industry to clean up its act, as it were.

For
years, airframe and engine manufacturers have focused huge resources on
development and construction of more efficient platforms. It was their
response to carriers’ need to keep cutting operating costs. Fuel and
airflow efficiency have the added benefit of improving carriers’
environmental impact.

Which begs the question: What about the
passenger end of the industry? There is not a lot of room for
cost-cutting in passenger operations, which is why the initial package
focuses on cargo carriers. But despite an understandable reluctance
among the beleaguered passenger carriers, they too are under the Kyoto
microscope. If the federal government moves too precipitously against
them, however, expect another round of kicking and screaming.

Yet
it has to happen. It’s to be hoped that government and its regulators
don’t overdo it. You can bet that ATAC will be looking out for the
interests of its members – and, by extension, all aircraft operators.


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