Every June marks World Environment Day. Individual action is so important (thank you for planting trees, cleaning parks, buying local and voting consistent with your values). But we need to go further and collectively advocate for fundamental, systemic change - and the travel industry plays a critical role.
Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions requires major transitions: a substantial reduction in fossil fuels, the deployment of low-emission energy sources, switching to alternative energy carriers, energy efficiency and conservation. We can do this – this is not science fiction – these technologies exist today.
Achieving net-zero CO2 emissions is challenging, but possible. GHG emissions were higher last decade than any previous decade, but the rate of growth between 2009 and 2019 was lower than that between 2000 and 2009.
That is the silver lining. We are making progress. We just need to go faster.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns the world is not on track to limit global warming to 1.5C, but we have the tools necessary to achieve our goals of peak emissions by 2025, half emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. There is hope, and this graph illustrates why. The unit costs of renewable energy have fallen, and their use continues to rise. As electric vehicle batteries, solar and wind come down in price, their usage continues to increase. This proves low-carbon technologies can be cost competitive with fossil fuel:
Stop debating and start investing. The time has come to transition to a low-carbon economy which can engender equitable outcomes for all in society. There are so many benefits to evolving our economies: revitalizing economic growth, reducing inequalities, increasing food security, limiting energy costs, potentially creating 65 million low-carbon jobs and preventing 700,000 air pollution deaths .
Parallel track everything: carbon pricing, policy incentives, market-based mechanisms, emissions trading schemes, high-integrity carbon offsets, nature-based and technology-based carbon credits, research and development, capacity building and sector-specific programs.
What do we do for travel? Every sector will follow its own unique decarbonization pathway. To radically evolve our sector, the IPCC recommends the following on transport sector emissions:
- Demand-focused interventions that shift toward energy-efficient modes of transport
- Electric vehicles powered by low-emissions electricity
- Sustainable biofuels and synthetic fuels can decarbonize aviation and shipping. Governments around the world are promoting sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). In the United Kingdom this includes policy interventions and technology funding, while in the United States this means tax incentives and the Executive SAF Grand Challenge
- Co-benefits include “air quality improvements, health benefits, equitable access to transportation services, reduced congestion and reduced material demand.”
The upside is a healthier and cleaner planet for all its inhabitants. The downside is catastrophic. Let’s collectively choose a fundamentally transformed future with lower cost energy derived from diversified sources rather than despotic regimes.