As we see and experience the impact of climate change – flooding, storms, wildfires and drought – awareness of the consequences of climate change grows. The debate is shifting from the credibility of the science to coping with the consequences of change. We hear less and less from the climate change deniers as the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions become all too evident. Five years ago at COP 21 in Paris, aviation and shipping were omitted from the Paris Agreement. As countries scrambled to reach agreement the challenges of aviation and shipping were shelved, omitted from national targets, they have been slow to move on from fossil fuels.
Aviation is fundamental to travel and tourism, particularly so for those developing countries and small island developing states dependent on tourism for a large part of their foreign exchange earnings and employment. With aviation excluded from national targets, the sector has been slow to respond. Aviation is not inherently polluting; flying is not the problem; the fossil fuels it uses are the problem. Aviation has responded with carbon offsetting, often encouraging passengers to buy a pardon, an offset, to salve their conscience. Offsets are too good to be true.
We have seen real progress on decarbonising cars; governments have set regulatory deadlines for new car sales which have driven technological development. So far, aviation has escaped this regulatory pressure. However, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs have begun to see the first-mover advantage, hydrogen-powered flight is being developed. As other sectors decarbonise and aviation continues to grow, its share of global emissions will increase, and aviation will come under greater regulatory pressure.
The greenhouse gases emitted now will linger in our atmosphere for decades, aircraft coming into service now will still be flying in 2050. It is now clear that the world is on target for 2.0° C+. Declaring that aviation will be net-zero by 2050 is not good enough. Change in the aviation sector is urgent, the longer the delay in implementing change the greater will be the cost for the airlines, the people and industries which rely on aviation transport and the environment we all depend on. It is time to stop procrastinating.
Last month we heard from Airbus, EasyJet and Universal Hydrogen about their plans for hydrogen-powered aviation and the transition away from fossil fuels.
During 2020 we have seen, in response to the Covid pandemic, what focussed and well-funded science can achieve. In September, ZeroAvia flew a fuel-cell-powered six-seater aircraft and expects to test a 20 seater in 2021 with certification for commercial operation by 2023. H2Fly flew a motorised Pipstrel glider in 2016 and is developing a propeller-driven plane to be tested soon. In America magniX is partnering with Universal Hydrogen to power a 40-seater de Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 to run on hydrogen fuel cells. They hope to fly the plane in 2025.
Boeing apparently has no plans to develop a hydrogen-powered plane. Airbus has ambitious plans for a ZEROe aircraft powered by hydrogen to be in commercial use by 2035. They will benefit from the EUs Clean Sky 2 programme.
Change is in the air.