Would you get on a plane with a less than 50% chance of landing safely?
Too bad. Right now we’re all aboard the global aviation industry’s Net Zero climate crash flightpath.
The international fossil fuel aviation industry will meet in Melbourne for four days from 15 November at the IATA Slot Conference (see And where do Slots fit in? below), to enable its emissions expansion plans — right when COP27 will be meeting supposedly to increase concerted action against global warming’s existential threat.
Shortly federal transport minister Catherine King will be asked to approve a third runway that will increase emissions from Melbourne Airport by 57%.
The Victorian state government supports both the IATA conference and a third runway, as does the industry super fund’s IFM Investors.
At the same time, the Victorian state government has legislated state emissions cuts of 50% by 2030. Greg Combet, chair of Melbourne Airport shareholder, IFM Investors, wants “to decarbonise”, and just last September the federal Labor government legislated a 43%-by-2030 emissions reduction target.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t have the aviation industry’s Net Zero 2050 pathway and an acceptable probability of avoiding runaway warming.
First up, eminent climate scientists including Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Kevin Anderson, and Sir David King, all say we need to cut emissions to absolute zero extremely quickly, not to net zero by 2050 (see also Climate Reality Check).
Plus we have to draw down existing emissions to cool an already disastrously hot planet, not to swap for further emissions. It’s called a climate emergency.
Net Zero 2050 is the aviation industry’s emissions reduction response. And it has a less than 50:50 chance of preventing 2ºC warming because it allows ongoing emissions out to 2050 and beyond. Emissions reductions from so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) are overstated, notwithstanding their endorsement recently by aviation minister Catherine King. CO2 drawn down by growing SAF feedstocks is deceptively deducted from the total CO2 emitted.
SAF can only be used in a blend with conventional jet fuel. Absolute feedstock shortages for SAF, renewable electricity for green hydrogen fuel and battery powered flight will prevent their roll out across the total global aviation fleet for decades if not forever. The possibility of short haul electric flights in the coming years cannot excuse ongoing emissions in the interim. Offsetting aviation emissions does not cut the total global emissions. And absolute feedstock shortages will prevent SAF supply to the thousands of planes in the global fleet. Plus, SAF still create non-CO2 emissions — including contrails — that create twice as much warming as CO2 alone. (See Stay Grounded https://stay-grounded.org/greenwashing and Flight Free Australia https://flightfree.net.au/the-plane-facts/ )
Flying is the single human activity with the most global warming impact. The Melbourne–Sydney flight path for Qantas and Virgin Australia flights was in April this year the second most emissions intensive on the planet. In 2019 Melbourne Airport flights created 28 million tonnes of global warming emissions, almost four times that of Santos and three times that of Woodside Petroleum.
Melbourne Airport’s proposed Third Runway will alone enable flight emissions of 160 million tonnes CO2e out to 2046. And post-Covid aviation growth is predicted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to be around 4%.
The aviation industry has an obligation to decarbonise in just the same way that all other sectors of the transport industry do. Unfortunately, the only way it can cut flight emissions quickly enough is by cutting the number of flights, by abandoning slots.
If reducing industry emissions was IATA’s priority, they would run their Slot Conference online. After all, the allocation of slots is recorded and managed on computers. An online conference would have an emissions footprint of less than 10 tonnes CO2e compared to the footprint of around 10,000 tonnes CO2e from the flights of its 1000 delegates.
Why are the Victorian and federal governments and IFM Investors supporting industry events and investments that will only magnify the impacts of global warming?
They and the IATA Slot Conference are gambling with our future by brazenly and irresponsibly increasing global warming’s existential threat.
And where do Slots fit in?
The Slot Conference (SC) is an IATA working conference. It’s a voluntary assembly of both IATA and non-IATA airlines and airports worldwide, where arrival and departure times and gates are allocated and exchanged to meet airport capacity limitations. The Slot Conferences occur twice a year.
Acquiring a pair of slots gives an airline the rights for an aircraft to take off and land at a specific location at a designated time. An airline’s slot numbers is an indicator of its market strength. An airline must make use of its allocated slots 80% of the time or return them for re-allocation. Acquiring slots can be very expensive. In 2016 Oman Air paid US$75 million for a pair of early morning slots. In the UK British Airway’s Heathrow slots were estimated to be worth up to 2.5 million pounds in 2004.
This is why airlines flew ‘ghost flights’ during the Covid 19 pandemic — empty planes — to and from airports to avoid losing their slot entitlements. Governments also gave huge amounts of aid to airlines to keep them flying, so as to maintain their access to airport slots worldwide. And the Worldwide Airport Slot Board (WASB), reduced the slot usage rate from 80% to 50%.
From the IATA’s point of view airport infrastructure expansion is important. More runways and terminals mean more flights, and so increased revenue.
IATA Slot Conferences should focus on reducing slots worldwide and a just transition out of the industry for aviation workers.
Action at the conference
Meet at 8am at Seafarers Bridge