When Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic by sea to attend the UN Climate Action Assembly of New York joining the movement Flygskam (embarrassed to fly), put the aviation industry at the center of the debate about what their responsibilities are in the climate change. This Wednesday, almost a month and a half after that crossing ended, IAG, one of the air giants – controls British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, among other airlines–, announced a step forward in the face of this controversy with the commitment to gradually cancel its CO2 emissions footprint until it reaches zero in 2050. It will invest in sustainable fuels, renew its fleet with less polluting aircraft and look for alternatives that compensate for what to day of today, he assumes, it is unattainable: airplanes that do not pollute. "It is a very ambitious goal," said the CEO of the European group, Willie Walsh, who brought out that IAG is the first group in the sector that commits to it.
The IAG plan is based on three premises that Walsh made clear yesterday in a meeting with journalists to which EL PAÍS was invited. The first is that the alternative of aircraft powered by batteries or hybrids, as it happens in the automobile industry, today is not a real solution for aviation. Another, that in some cases there is no alternative to the plane, either because of infrastructure or time available. And a third that marked the administrations closely, when it denied that higher taxes for flying will contribute to the energy transition in the sector. His words come just when the new European Government has just opened, in which there will be debate on new environmental rates to airlines, and when some national executives – with Holland at the helm – press to raise rates for aircraft users. Far from all that, Walsh asked for the opposite: incentives "to accelerate investment in new technologies" in the absence of alternatives to fossil fuels.
The greatest effort that IAG will make to achieve its objective will be an investment of 27,000 million dollars – taking into account the catalog prices, not the discounts that the airlines get – to change 142 aircraft during the next five years. There is a theory in the sector that ensures that each new generation of aircraft represents a 25% reduction in kerosene consumption. Walsh said yesterday that changing the Boeing 747 for the Airbus 350 will allow 38% fuel savings while ensuring that 80% of the emissions launched by the aviation industry into the atmosphere come from long-haul flights.
But the European group does not plan to limit itself to saving kerosene with its new fleet of aircraft. He plans to invest 400 million euros over the next 20 years to boost sustainable fuels, which could reduce current consumption by 10%, according to Walsh. This strategy includes the joint venture created by British Airways with the company Velocys to build the first European plant for recycling household waste in gasoline for its aircraft. According to IAG data, that type of fuel would be able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70%.
To counteract the carbon footprint of their aircraft, the group's CEO explained that IAG will continue to investigate, together with the US company Mosaic Materials, a technology that allows CO2 to be captured from the atmosphere. But the fastest, next year, will be the British Airways operation to offset the equivalent of carbon emissions from its domestic flights in the United Kingdom through investment in solar or reforestation programs in South Africa, Asia and Africa . That, however, Walsh acknowledged, represents only 2% of the company's capacity.
The intentions announced yesterday by IAG are added to the Corsia plan that the aviation industry sealed with the United Nations to reduce 2.5 billion tons of emissions between 2020 and 2035. That plan represented an investment of 40,000 million euros in different projects. It is estimated that aviation is behind 2.5% of emissions, although with a risk of quadrupling in a short time due to the lack of alternative fuels and the reduction of emissions from other means of transport, such as train or car.
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