Pigs take flight as airlines claim they'll cut emissions by 50%

Posted by jamie — 22 September 2009 at 1:54pm - Comments

Startling news from Willie Walsh of British Airways who is preparing to lift the lid on a deal between aviation bosses to slash their emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. Wow, it seems like magic. Oh wait, it really does seem like magic - it's just some shifty sleight of hand as part of a PR offensive to persuade Copenhagen-bound politicos that airlines really do want to help with climate change.

Walsh and the other aviation bods are worried that, should the Copenhagen meeting come up with a sound deal to sort out climate change, they'll be bounced into accepting tough measures to reduce their emissions. They managed to exclude themselves from Kyoto, but the writing's on the wall for them this time round. Hence this pre-emptive strike which on the surface sounds impressive but it's yet more of the same old greenwash we've come to expect.

So what's the problem? First of all, reading between the lines it's obvious that these targets won't mean real cuts; they'll be achieved through sneaky offsetting and carbon trading. So airlines and airports can carry on as normal - and even carry on expanding - while relying on other sectors of industry and society to reduce emissions to compensate.

Walsh also wants to see his industry leave the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and join a global trading scheme instead. Which doesn't exist yet. If and when it does, it would need to  deliver actual emissions cuts rather than just pass the buck around, and yet it's buck-passing which Walsh has his heart set on.

To highlight this problem, last week the Committee on Climate Change suggested to Ed Miliband that carbon trading would never be enough to deal with aviation emissions and that "the aviation industry should also plan, however, for deep cuts in gross C02" (pdf). Exactly the kind of progressive, clear-headed thinking Walsh and co are trying to avoid - no doubt the usual suspects of efficiency gains through new (ie not invented yet) technology and powering planes on coconut oil are in the mix somewhere as well.

Companies like British Airways and BAA have taken every opportunity to get in the way of anything that could force them to reduce emissions - just look at the current Face To Face campaign, which Boris Johnson was flown out to New York to promote. It's cynically designed to trash video-conferencing and other telecommunications in favour of travelling through several time zones to shake on a deal.

Punting this proposal for emissions 'cuts' up to the UN for consideration as part of a global climate deal is another such move on a more audacious scale, although with Copenhagen now 76 days away the stakes are getting that much higher.

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