Unlike Celine Hourcade of Change Horizon, author Winfried Hartmann doubts that net zero, though desirable, is a mission possible. His main points: Leading representatives of the aviation industry and its associations have deliberately delivered false statements for years about achieving climate neutrality. They prefer to close their eyes and hope for the best. Yet, things are getting worse because climate change is here and rapidly progressing. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the constantly repeated phrase “by 2050, we'll be climate neutral” is an unattainable goal. In other words, a hollow postulate, as criticized in CargoForwarder Global’s remarkable article “Aviation's Climate Lies”, published 19MAR23, he says.
Severe shortage of SAF
According to all forecasts, commercial air traffic will continue to increase significantly in the coming decades. Some experts speak of a doubling of aircraft by 2050, others even expect numbers to triple. To power these jetliners, huge amounts of Sustainable Aviation Fuel is needed, whether hydrogen or other synthetic fuels. However, the amount of SAF produced worldwide forecast for the year 2023 would have covered just about 15% of the fuel requirements of all German airlines in 2019 (sources: neste.com/ Klimaschutz-Portal.aero). Of course, production could be scaled up, with prices going down, but the fleet growth eats up this surplus.
In addition to this, it must be considered that other modes of transport, such as ocean shipping and trains, are also standing in line to utilize SAF. Not to mention individual road traffic powered by synthetic fuels as strongly supported by German Transport Minister, Volker Wissing.
Unsolved supply issues
And hydrogen? Even if deserts such as the Sahara were to be paved with solar panels for the production of SAF, there would still be enormous technical, economic, and political issues to be solved. Electricity cannot be transported over thousands of kilometers without serious line losses. Therefore, SAF factories would have to be erected in deserts, located close to solar farms. Besides costly and risky transportation there is also the security issue. The pipelines would have to run through politically critical regions, safeguarding them would be a herculean task.
That said, climate neutrality cannot be achieved by 2050 if global air traffic doubles or even triples, as expected. Not even if further fuel-saving, supported by more efficient technology, reduces demand.
Strategic realignment is required
The current discussion, which tends to lull and pretend that the aviation industry is on its way to achieving Net Zero by 2050, must be realigned. Airlines and associations must quantify what air travel really costs. It is more than doubtful that calculations presented by airlines are based on realistic parameters. This is shown by state subsidies for (traditional) kerosene. So, against the backdrop of the looming climate catastrophe and its dystopian prospects, the question arises as to whether “low cost” is a still acceptable business model? Will air freight as we know it today, still have a raison d'être in 25 years' time? Shouldn't our certainties about the state and future of our industry be fundamentally and honestly put to the test? So far, there has been no word, no vision, no master plan from the leaders of the aviation industry.
Economic laissez-faire that the climate can no longer afford
This “after-the-flood” attitude is likely to cost. At the latest when governments step in to regulate air traffic, driven by mounting public pressure.
The time for laissez faire is over. Consumer habits, the entire transportation system, and the way we live will change dramatically. It can be expected that air polluters will have to pay progressively more for polluting the air. Consequently, this means that many products and services related to aviation will become much more expensive. The first step would certainly be global emissions taxes, as currently being discussed by the EU, which would be levied on the entire flight route of a passenger or air freight shipment from A to Z, regardless of the airline's name.
Government guidelines are required
In addition, precise interim steps and targets must be communicated. For instance, which emission limits must be complied with in 2030, 2035, etc., and which steps are required to achieve these guidelines. Just postulating that by 2050 aviation will achieve the Net Zero target is not enough. If the industry does not set itself targets, others will do so instead. The task facing the aviation industry is therefore not only to ask fundamental questions about climate protection, but also to present precise and binding action plans, broken down into timelines. And this must be done not only in boardrooms, but loudly and clearly in public. Other sectors of the economy, such as energy suppliers, car manufacturers, retailers, etc., also need to rethink their business models or completely reorganize themselves. Aviation should do the same, and do it actively, not reactively. It is high time that this is done now!
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Afterword: The author has been in aviation since 1984. He was Head of the Air Cargo Association Germany (ACD) and has held leading positions at airports and cargo airlines.
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Ingo Rössler (Monday, 27 March 2023 09:54)
Winfried, 100% concurred. The net-zero target for air cargo is complete greenwashing at this stage and is only meant to defend the status quo. Better to focus on getting net zero done on the ground, which is certainly feasible and develop more fuel-efficient jet engines in the long term. Also, airlifting scores of low-value commodities like flowers, vegetables, or fruit across the globe is questionable. This luxury segment isn't priced correctly, which is why we think we can afford to eat raspberries from South America during the Northern Winter. Regulation has to look into the CO2 footprint of commodities which actually add little value to a more than well-fed population in richer countries.
P Balasubramanian (Monday, 03 April 2023 02:53)
Totally agree with you Winfried and Ingo. We, as air cargo industry are burying our heads in the sand like a proverbial ostrich. The more we know the truth, the more hypocritical we become. After all, denial of the problem doesn’t take the problem away.