As a classic car buff, the debate on greenhouse gas emissions makes me think of a 1953 Pontiac two-door sedan that I recently sold. She was a real beauty with a light sea mist green body and a dark pine green top. Her beautiful, newly restored chrome bumpers had a sparkling radiance as bright as flawless diamonds.
That Pontiac and I were a hit during drives around town and at car shows where we always won top prizes. She was a beauty and I was lucky to have her until a Shriner from Connecticut offered me a price that was beyond my wildest expectations. I let her go to travel the parade routes of New England.
One thing I don’t miss about that car was the cloud of exhaust emitted from its tailpipe. This was not uncommon since back in 1953 cars had no practical way of controlling emissions until later models came with catalytic converters more than 20 years later. Our nation’s cities were smog ridden while lawmakers and regulators pushed automobile manufacturers into making changes that reduced emissions and cleaned America’s skies.
Bill Boesch, the former chief of American Airlines cargo, recently commented that protecting our environment is a legacy that we give to our children and their children after them. But that effort must be accomplished by passing regulations on the manufacturers and not by penalizing the companies using the equipment.
The air cargo industry transports 40 percent of the world trade by revenue. Boesch says that imposing higher costs on an industry already facing vast economic challenges will have a negative effect on the world’s gross national product. Change should be focused on manufacturers as was done in the U.S. car industry where people were not banned from driving the car they had already purchased nor were they charged outrageous prices for newer, lower emissions and less gas consuming models.
President Obama recently signed into law a measure to stop U.S. participation in a costly European Union scheme that imposes an emissions tax on American and other nations’ air carriers. The new U.S. law directs America’s government agencies to enter into international negotiations including agreements to pursue a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions while ensuring U.S. air carriers are held harmless from any emissions trading scheme unilaterally imposed by the European Union.
At about the same time as the new law was signed, in a welcome move, the European Union temporarily halted its imposition of the emissions trading tax on foreign carriers while requiring their European rivals to comply. The EU has decided to await the results of a rightfully more internationally consultative approach through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The EU emissions trading scheme targeted aviation after realizing that the airline industry would unlikely be able to improve fuel efficiency at the same rate as air traffic expands. Still, the industry contributes only 2 percent of the total greenhouse gasses. Frustrated by ICAO inaction, the EU imposed strict penalties on those flying the planes instead of manufacturers such as EU based Airbus to lessen greenhouse gas emissions on new equipment they sell.
But despite the new law prohibiting U.S. companies from complying with the now-delayed European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, concerns remain. For example, the U.S. law requires that the government take actions that are in the public interest to hold airline operators “harmless from the emissions trading scheme.” Does this mean that it would be in the public interest to reimburse airlines for penalties incurred from their noncompliance? How about reimbursement for aircraft seized due to refusal to comply?
Aside from these issues, ICAO must spend the next year demonstrating its capability in fulfilling its rightful responsibility. Strong leadership will require quick and decisive diplomatic action from all countries taking part in the process, including commitments from big carbon emitting developing industrialized nations such as India and China.
But those buying the planes including their passenger and air cargo customers will need to play a role as well. Once a solution is reached, all must ensure full support through sacrifice and rigid compliance that will adequately address the greenhouse gas issue to assure our planet’s welfare. Failure to accomplish this goal could have an adverse impact on future generations. Just ask the company that made the Pontiac.
–Brandon Fried is the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association