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McCarthy: The Three-and-a-Half-Per Cent Solution

The time is past for aviation to argue that its contribution to greenhouse gases is insignificant.


September 26, 2007
By Stacy Bradshaw


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Air Canada is now offering its customers an opportunity to reduce the
environmental impact of their travel by participating in a carbon
offset program. The program is being managed by a notfor- profit
organization called Zerofootprint. It allows passengers to calculate
the impact of their travel and then mitigate it with small voluntary
additional payments to support environmental projects that reduce
greenhouse gases.

For
example, it will cost an individual $19.20 to offset his or her share
of carbon emissions on a return flight from Toronto to London and
$12.80 for a return flight from Vancouver to Montreal.

The
decision to work with Zerofootprint is a timely move. While carbon
offsetting programs represent just one of a myriad of strategies to
mitigate aviation’s impact on climate change, it makes a highly visible
statement about the airline’s commitment to confronting the issue.

In
1999, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a special
report entitled Aviation and the Global Atmosphere. That report
estimated that aviation contributes to approximately 3.5% of the total
impact on climate change. Since that report, further data has suggested
that aviation’s impact had been overestimated and may in fact be closer
to 3%.

In either case, the time is past for aviation to argue
that its contribution to greenhouse gases is insignificant. Today’s
aircraft are 70% more energy-efficient than in the 1960s and further
efficiencies are possible through improved technology, operations and
air traffic management. Such improvements are, nonetheless, expected to
only partially offset the growth of aviation emissions.

ICAO
president Roberto Kobeh Gonzâlez presents the dilemma as follows: “We
have a choice. Either we fly less, or we find a way to mitigate the
impact of aviation on the environment. The consensus is obviously on
continuing to fly and ensuring greater compatibility between aviation
and the environment.” ICAO has just released draft guidelines for an
emissions trading scheme for aviation, which will be reviewed by the
ICAO Assembly in Montreal in September.

The European Union (EU)
has already started down that road by drafting proposed legislation
that would see emissions from all domestic and international flights
between EU airports covered by 2011. By 2012, the scope expands to
cover all international flights, to or from anywhere in the world, that
arrive at or depart from an EU airport.

The Europeans are
presenting their action as an example of global leadership. Other parts
of the world such as China, Africa, South America and the US, however,
see the EU-proposed legislation as unwelcome unilateral action.

One
thing is certain: Decisive action on aviation emissions is in
everybody’s best interest. It is also clear that only ICAO has the
authority to provide the global leadership needed to address what is
undeniably a pressing global challenge.