Aircraft behemoth Boeing estimates at least 90,000 commercial planes fly daily: a massive fuel burn that translates into elephantine emissions of toxic air. There is opportunity for change in the Middle East.
If you are not already afraid of the giant plume of methane gas now emitting greenhouses gases into the atmosphere, there’s another worry: air emissions. Airplane emissions are plunked into two broad source categories: stationary (think factories) or mobile: planes, ships, heavy construction equipment. Environmental agencies have a hard enough battle regulating fixed assets within defined geopolitical limits, never mind chasing these moving polluters around the globe. Did you know that aviation has been exempt from all international controls on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol both specifically exclude the industry, instead Kyoto kicked this regulatory ball to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Impressively, last year ICAO resolved to improve fuel efficiency 2% per year through 2050; agree a global framework for alternative fuels; propose a GHG emission standard for aircraft engines by 2013; and cap GHG emissions at 2020 levels. Good stuff, except there’s no agreement on how exactly to define or enforce aircraft GHG limits (um, Stewardess, got an aspirin?).
Aircraft exhaust is a toxic soup whose ingredients, mainly carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and water vapor, are spilled directly into the upper atmosphere. Variables like flight time (day versus night), cruising altitudes and sunshine intensity make calculating emissions problematic.
Absent global regulation of this mega-industry, the EU and a handful of individual countries have set their own emissions targets. Aviation was a topic at last week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, but clear outcomes from those discussions remain up-in-the-air.
The air travelling population is increasing. There’s massive growth in developing nations and their airports balloon to meet demand. New terminals are online and expanding in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi.Kuwait and Jordan have major airport redevelopments underway, each targeting ambitious green building credentials.
World Green Building organizations have incited enviro-awareness resulting in radical improvements in passenger terminal design, construction and ongoing operations. It’s time now for the guys in the sky to get grounded in sustainability too. Where does this sit on the global green agenda?
Scientific uncertainty is no excuse for inaction.
Image via Etihad airlines