As more travelers return to the skies, the environmental impact of aviation is fueling concerns
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Leisure and business travel are picking up, according to the International Air Transport Association, and the return to busier skies is fueling concerns among environmentalists about increasing fossil fuel emissions from an industry. aviation revitalized.
Airline ticket sales are rising to near normal levels for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a slowdown that some economists say has cost airlines an estimated US $ 370 billion in income after air travel has fallen nearly 60% in the past 18 years. month. But while welcoming customers back, the industry is simultaneously striving to reduce its environmental impact.
The issue is a priority for environmentalists and industry policymakers this week at the United Nations COP26 climate change summit in Scotland.
The Conference of the Parties (COP), as it is known, meets annually and is the global decision-making body set up in the early 1990s to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent climate agreements. World leaders and climate change advocates are shaping policies at COP26 around a host of environmental priorities, including greenhouse gas emissions from air travel.
As the conference addresses the need for systemic industry change, on a more individual level, environmentalists are divided on the issue of theft itself at a time in history where they say there is a emergency linked to climate change.
Many struggled to decide whether to fly to COP26, although 25,000 people are still expected to attend the conference which runs through November 12.
- WATCH | The history of aviation and greenhouse gas emissions, Sunday, November 7 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and at 10 p.m. local time on your CBC TV station. You can also catch The National online at Gem of Radio-Canada.
Erica Frank is a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group focused on addressing climate change that has also addressed the need for in-person academic lectures. She thinks there are few excuses for stealing.
“Based on the data, and only on the data base, I went from a life of traveling by plane every month or so for work and often also for pleasure, to a life where I usually do it once. per year approximately, ”she said. noted. “It was because the fun and professional gain I could have gotten out of it just wasn’t fair.”
Frank still attends conferences every month, but does so almost exclusively virtually – something she says we’ve all learned is possible during COVID.
“I gave my first New Zealand keynote from my room [in Canada] eight years ago. This is something I think we have no more excuses for if we really want it to be a climate emergency, if we really want to make real change on a personal level, “said Frank.
“There is nothing that is a more effective target for a high-flying individual than stealing less.”
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She argues that even though emissions from flights constitute only 3-4% of global emissions, it is also a relatively small percentage of the world’s population that flies regularly, so it is a lifestyle change that could have a significant impact on the environment if people sufficiently reduce the amount they steal.
WATCH | Erica Frank explains why she is so keen on cutting down on her own air travel and encouraging others to do the same:
Tzeporah Berman is a well-known climate change advocate and current chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. She flew to COP26 as a guest delegate, but admits that when she boards a flight, she always does so with some hesitation.
“It was a big fight for me because right now there’s no question that aviation is pretty much anyone’s personal carbon footprint. If you take a flight, if you try to To compensate for it, you will have to become a vegetarian for four years. And so I thought about it long and hard, “she said.
In the end, Berman says she decided to fly to Glasgow because of the conference’s vital importance in the face of environmental damage from the flights.
“This conference of the parties is a critical moment in human history. We must hold our governments to account,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we have civil society representatives there, that we monitor the process, that we encourage them to be as ambitious as possible. And then we tell the world what’s going on at. inside these rooms. “
Having attended several COP meetings in the past, Berman points out that access to the world’s decision-makers at the conference and behind-the-scenes negotiations make it essential to be there in person. And while she places great importance on the personal lifestyle changes she thinks people should all make, she adds that dealing with the climate emergency we face is more important than individual efforts.
“Every ton of carbon saves lives, so we should all be doing everything we can in our way of life, it’s true. But right now the problem is so big and so urgent that we need better laws,” she declared.
WATCH | Tzeporah Berman explains why COP26 wouldn’t be a success if everyone just attended it virtually:
Part of the solution that environmentalists and governments are calling for at COP26 is change at the industry level, including the way the airline industry operates.
There is no quick fix to the emissions from the aircraft themselves. Aircraft manufacturers in Canada and abroad are looking for ways to produce fleets powered by hydrogen, for example, but the technology is still 10 to 15 years away.
Still, there are things the industry can do now to reduce emissions from all operations, which is the goal of a new initiative at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The airport released its emissions reduction plan last month ahead of COP26, creating a potential plan others can follow.
“We really took a look, being a fossil fuel driven industry, our end-to-end business,” said YVR CEO Tamara Vrooman.
“Where we can make significant changes to the way we operate, the type of energy we use, the way we organize our business so that we can commit to being net zero by 2030. That’s 20 years. ahead of what we anticipated before, and it is certainly the most daring commitment of any airport in North America. “
The airport, which is the largest building in British Columbia, is a massive operation employing 26,000 people. What is being done here could be a test for how other airports and potentially municipalities are reducing emissions.
“We are also a network, and therefore we share our learnings. We are currently working with London Heathrow in terms of engagement and learning, and vice versa,” said Vrooman.
Specific changes promised by YVR include reducing waste at terminals, reducing fresh water consumption, conserving energy, investing in renewable energy, replacing fossil fuels where possible through things like electrification and buying carbon offsets.
Vrooman acknowledges that emissions from the planes themselves are years away from being significantly reduced, but she says people can start thinking now about where they can reduce the carbon impact of all of their trips. .
“When we talk about a passenger trip, we are talking about what happens between the time you leave your home and the time you arrive at your destination,” she said. “So that’s it, from the alternative and electric ways of getting to the airport, to the way you move around the airport, to the way we move the plane, so we’re now reducing there where we can and we are preparing for the technological and energy changes that will occur in the future. ”
Berman agrees that while individual efforts are important, people will continue to fly. And for this reason, industry must take its share of the responsibility and lead the way in systemic change to help reduce emissions.
“For decades the fossil fuel industry has wanted us to feel guilty. It’s because we drive cars and that’s our personal problem. But right now, we have to see ourselves not just as consumers. , but as citizens, ”she said.
“And it’s just as if not more important that you walk the streets, call your MP or write your MP, because we need to hold our decision-makers to account to change systems, not just change the way we as individuals. , let’s consume. “
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