According to a recent Centre for Asia Pacific (CAPA) news report, heightened short-term economic headwinds facing the airline industry could defer attention away from the most serious longer-term challenge for the industry – climate change. In a recent report, KPMG claims tourism and aviation are among a total of six economic sectors that are in particular danger from climate change risks. Aviation, transport generally and tourism constitute the main industries in the “Danger Zone” of climate change risks – meaning that they score highly on the risks, which face them, yet score poorly in terms of their preparedness to face these risks.
Moving aviation and tourism out of the “red zone” will not be easy and airlines face imminent and potentially punitive impacts on the global industry emanating from Europe. In other words, regardless of beliefs about the seriousness of global warming, the political threat is a reality. The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines’ (AAPA) stated policy on emissions is “to promote market-based options (MBOs).” This will include “new improved technology and enhancements to infrastructure and procedure as an alternative to options such as emissions trading, charges or any other form of financial disincentive.” The Association maintains that “airlines alone cannot be made to bear the burden on what is considered a systemic responsibility to address emissions”.
However, among the host of issues confronting airlines in this region, it is clear that the environment and global warming has not yet become front and centre for the region’s airlines. At its 2007 Presidents’ Assembly, AAPA passed a resolution stating: “With the impact of aviation on climate change being an issue of critical importance to the sustainability of the industry, AAPA is renewing its call on governments to continue supporting research in airframe and engine technologies that will further reduce the levels of noise and emissions. The Association believes that voluntary initiatives and market-based measures, rather than additional levies, are more appropriate and effective policy tools in addressing aviation’s environmental impact. It also renews its call on governments, airports and air navigation service providers to actively explore ways to improve the efficiency of airspace utilisation and airport operations.”
But then it continues: “amongst new initiatives, AAPA calls upon governments to support efforts within the ICAO framework to reach a consensus on globally harmonised policies towards aviation and climate change, as well as to work towards policies on international aviation that do not distort international competition.” Leaving solutions to ICAO is tantamount to saying that we want to push the issue onto the backburner. Events – not the least the EU’s initiatives - will quickly overtake the pedestrian rate at which ICAO plans to proceed. The unfortunate feature implied in this statement is that the region is nowhere near having a coordinating voice with which to address major issues of this sort in a coherent way. This is not the fault of the airlines, but at the same time, there is no organisation better placed to press hard for this – not just for a pressing issue like global warming, but for a range of others, including support for a multilateral rather than bilateral liberalisation initiative.
The result: the region’s airlines and governments will all act independently, and in effect make their individual responses, largely reactively to the often heavy-handed unilateral decisions of the EU. As a result, 2008 and 2009 will spawn an array of different national and corporate responses to the global warming issue.