Canada needs a firm emissions reduction target for the aviation sector: open letter

The federal government needs to be more transparent — and ambitious — about its next plan to cut carbon emissions from the aviation industry, a group of environmental organizations said in a statement. open letter.

In the letter, which was released last week, the groups say Canada is falling behind other countries in tackling aviation emissions and that the federal government must impose an emissions target on the industry. cut emissions 30% below 2019 levels by 2030. They say emissions from the aviation sector have soared dramatically – up 74% from 2005 to 2019 – and the emissions plan previous failed to stem the tide.

The letter was signed by dozens of environmental and health groups, including Environmental Defence, Equiterre and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario.

“And here we have a government that is going to take the issue of emissions privately behind closed doors with the industry to come up with a plan to be presented in September at an international forum,” said Lyn Adamson, co-chair of the group. ClimateFast defense. , one of the signatories of the letter, referring to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“We’re just saying you have to have public input. It has to be a transparent process.”

Air travel accounted for about 3% of Canada’s total emissions in 2019 (in 2020, air travel dropped dramatically due to the pandemic), or about 22 megatonnes of greenhouse gas CO2 equivalent. This is equivalent to the emissions of five million cars per year.

What is the plan?

Canada’s aviation emissions reduction plan is due out in the fall and will be submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations agency that oversees international air transport and shipping. ICAO fixed ambitious energy efficiency improvement targets of 2% per year until 2050 and carbon neutral growth in the aviation sector from 2020.

Workers refuel an Airbus A350 with sustainable aviation fuel at an airport north of Paris. Sustainable fuels, which emit less CO2 than current aviation fuel, are being explored by airlines to reduce emissions. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

The international agency is also development the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Program for International Aviation (CORSIA), in which Canada participates. The system will force airlines to offset some of their carbon emissions by buying carbon offsets that reduce emissions elsewhere, a controversial tool due to difficulties in verifying whether offsets are working.

Canada’s last aviation emissions plan was released in 2012. It was based on encouraging energy efficiency, the development of more sustainable fuels that emitted less carbon when burned, and air traffic control improvements that could further reduce emissions . It did not contain any short-term emissions reduction targets for industry, which Adamson said should be included this time.

What can be done to reduce emissions?

Proponents say it’s time for Canada to look beyond energy efficiency and start thinking about reducing demand for air travel.

“Short-haul flights in Canada could be replaced by buses and trains, which are certainly better from a climate point of view. So these trips, for example, from Toronto to Ottawa, from Toronto to Montreal, we should do them by bus or train, and ideally by electric bus and electric train,” said Gideon Forman, transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, who also signed the letter.

“It will take work. I mean, we don’t have fast trains between Toronto and Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa at this point, but we have to go in that direction.”

Forman says that due to Canada’s geography, air travel will remain essential. But many busy routes in the Windsor-Quebec corridor, or between major cities in British Columbia and Alberta, can be replaced by trains and buses, he said.

France is considering something similar. In 2021, it decided to ban domestic flights where a two-and-a-half-hour rail alternative exists.

Denmark has announced a target of achieving net zero emissions for all domestic flights by 2030, although this depends on sustainable fuel technologies that do not yet exist. Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, wants to market a zero-emission aircraft by 2035. It would rely on hydrogena fuel that does not emit CO2 when burned.

Concept drawings of Airbus’ future zero-emission hydrogen aircraft. (Airbus)

But the growing demand for air travel is ringing alarm bells for conservationists.

“I think what really sets us apart is that this is a growing industry, a rapidly growing industry,” Forman said.

“Not just in Canada, but internationally, as the middle class grows, more people are flying. And so it’s a growing concern internationally.”

What is the industry doing?

Air Canada, the country’s largest airline, set a goal to achieve net zero emissions across all of its operations by 2050. It also has a short-term goal of reducing emissions by 20% below 2019 levels by 2030 for its flights, which that the open letter also pointed out.

Air Canada has set a goal to reduce its flight emissions by 20% below 2019 levels by 2030. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In an emailed statement, the airline said it supported the government’s adoption of long-term climate goals for the industry. The company’s climate plan includes replacing older aircraft with more fuel-efficient aircraft and supporting the development of more sustainable aviation fuels (which emit less CO2 when burned than what is currently used ).

Transport Canada said the new emissions plan “will set a net-zero vision for aircraft emissions by 2050 as a first step and provide a signal for more work to come.” He did not provide further details on the plan as it is still under discussion.