BY EKELEM AIRHIHEN
The carbon footprint of air transport is a major challenge in the discussion on climate change. This may be an opportunity for African aviation to work towards fuel efficiency to reduce carbon dioxide emissions leveraging on behavioural interventions for sustainability.
The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG 2018) in its Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders, states that the Air Transport industry produced about 895 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually before Covid-19 shut down. This represented about two percent of the 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide generated by human activities every year.
The challenge of fossil fuels as sources of carbon dioxide emissions is yet to be resolved. In late July this year a gathering of environment ministers from the G20 group of countries in Italy could not reach an agreement to end fossil-fuel subsidies and phase out the use of coal.
Where individuals take actions that have a negative impact on society but do not pay for it, externalities result. One way society has been able to deal with such externalities has been by imposing excise tax specifically levied on certain goods deemed harmful to society and individuals. This type of tax, called sin tax, levied on carbon emissions, has been a source of controversy. Aviation is not left out.
The International Air Travel Association ( IATA ) had in July warned that relying on taxation as a solution to cutting aviation carbon emissions in the European Union’s ‘Fit for 55’ proposal would be counterproductive to the goal of sustainable aviation. They suggested instead, practical emission reduction measures as incentives for Sustainable Aviation Fuels and modernization of Air Traffic Management.
While Africa is said to account for about 2 to 3 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial sources, the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings states that climate change is predicted to significantly decrease Africa’s GDP through mechanisms such as lowered crop yields, reduced agricultural and labour productivity and damage to human health.
Indeed, Africa is disproportionately feeling the impacts related to climate, states Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in the Foresight Africa Report of Brookings. For instance, devastating cyclones affected three million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the spring of 2018. Also, GDP exposure in African nations vulnerable to extreme climate patterns is projected to grow to nearly half of the continent’s GDP.
So we have a region that would disproportionately feel the impact of climate change and so must step up action. Relying on action by the big emitters only will not suffice.
Behavioural Economics uses insights from different disciplines to explain people’s decisions and behaviours that cannot be explained by traditional economic theory. It challenges the assumption of perfect rationality on the part of the decision maker. Human choices are often subconscious and shaped by defaults or other context – specific factors akin to a reflex action, says the World Travel and Tourism Council – Harvard Learning Insight on Behavioural Economics. In other words, many choices in everyday life do not pay much attention to available information and skip the review of alternative options by employing shortcuts.
The World Travel and Tourism Council ( WTTC) – Harvard learning Insights states that using behavioural economics can help design Travel and Tourism products and services that promote the sustainable choice as the most likely choice the consumer or traveller will make. It states further that behavioural economic approaches employ nudges and behaviour smart designs to avoid placing a disproportionate burden on the traveller to make sustainability decisions that could positively impact the overall footprint of the sector.
There is an important learning point from one of the case studies from WTTC that provides important learning points for African aviation. It is about fuel efficiency for airlines using the Virgin Atlantic experience. Virgin Atlantic’s Fuel Efficiency team was tasked with exploring ways in which carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced through increased fuel efficiency of flights. Though the standard operating procedures in pilot manuals included three tactics as proactive actions by pilots, most pilots did not apply them and openly ignored them, states the case study. These tactics were: Efficient fuel load, efficient flight and efficient taxiing-in.
Three behavioural interventions were applied over an 8-month period and covering around 42,000 flights. These interventions resulted in modified behaviour of pilots that saved $5.37 million in costs, 6.8 million kilogrammes of fuel and 21 million kilogrammes of carbon dioxide that translated to an emissions reduction of negative $250 per tonne of carbon dioxide. The project had an important finding that the changes in pilot behaviour were sustained long after the end of the project.
With rising fuel costs and the fact that the highest carbon emitters are not bearing an equivalent burden of the consequences of climate change, leveraging on behavioural interventions by airlines, airports and other players in the travel and tourism industry, should provide a way forward as the industry looks at sustainability.
Ekelem Airhihen, a chartered accountant, is an airport customer experience specialist; and can be reached on email@example.com and+2348023125396 (text only)
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