By adding emission reductions from its new Airbus A350s to its long term investment in buying jet fuel made from landfill waste in California, Cathay Pacific now expects to cut fossil carbon emissions on some of its North Pacific long haul flights to Hong Kong by as much as 80 percent in 2019 compared to today’s operations.
This update, in the South China Morning Post, is one of the best insights into how airlines can tackle climate change responsibilities to have been published in recent times.
It’s a report that can also be taken further if seen in the context of the move toward aggressive reductions of fossil carbon release by airlines that want to go beyond support for small scale research projects to initiatives that will put substantial amounts of green fuel into their tanks within a few years.
There are several things to keep in mind. Current schemes for biofuel production don’t produce cheap fuel, but the cost will come down as the scale of production rises.
And in most countries, even the falling price of biofuel production needs to be further lowered to become useful for airlines by schemes that trade carbon credits and yield a balance sheet benefit.
Only that way, according to the biofuel and investment communities, can a virtuous circle be set up in which more volume means lowering the price gap between traditional fossil carbon releasing fuels and their various synthetic or biological replacements, with the balance sheet benefits of burning more green fuel encouraging more investment in more biofuel production.
A perverse consequence of rising use of lower costing biofuels than before is to also put downward pressure on the price of the crude oil traditionally used to make aviation grade kerosene.
There is very little analyst support for the view that biofuels will ever cost less than fossil carbon releasing fuels in a head to head contest this side of 2050 without the invoking of public policy changes mandating the use of green fuel quotas and their supporting with company tax benefits.
But there is an environmental and political imperative in China, and Europe, that says the shutting down of fossil carbon releasing energy sources must be achieved as a matter of rising urgency.
Nothing will focus the public mind more closely on the perils of global warming than the destruction of ports and coastal settlements from rising sea levels, or the chaos that will attend the winners and losers in food production as some agricultural land benefits from higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, while others are destroyed by heat and loss of irrigation.
Given all its other problems, Cathay Pacific’s investment in green fuel is recognition of the over arching threat to air travel of growth that otherwise comes without emissions reductions.