Preparing for the climate of the future

Written by: Ali Agah
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At the beginning of every new year I like to look back at the most interesting events of the past year… like the weather! During 2019 the Australia bushfires began, Six European countries had their hottest days on record[1] and Venice saw its worst flooding in 50 years but its canals were "almost dry" just two months later. As I write this, storm Dennis has caused lethal, 'biblical' floods across the UK. Climate Change is taking its toll globally.

As the effects of a changing climate becomes more and more apparent, our weather-dependent aviation industry needs to brace itself.

Climate Change has found its place at the forefront of discussions in politics, business and economics. But for aviation the focus is solely around the greenhouse gas contribution from aircraft emissions. This has overshadowed the industry's need to adapt. So it's unsurprising that, according to EUROCONTROL, only 8% of stakeholders believe themselves well-prepared for the impact of Climate Change.

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Many, including 48% of aviation organisations in Europe (see here), believe they are already experiencing the impact of Climate Change. Even if your organisation is not yet affected, it's possible that rising temperatures, rising sea levels, changes in the strength and patterns of precipitation, more frequent extreme weather and changes in wind patterns will impact our industry and, directly or indirectly, affect your organisation. Whatever the impact (positive or, more likely, negative) you will need to consider whether adaptation is needed and what actions should be taken to adapt.

As my colleague (Yevs Ennesser) highlights, economic analysis shows that earlier investment in preparation produces better returns. So it makes sense to consider how to avoid, minimise or exploit the impact of Climate Change as soon as possible. Failing to do so can be detrimental for an organisation and its decision makers.

Planning and preparation aren't just about avoiding future detrimental effects, it's also about exploiting potential opportunities. For example, the European Environmental Agency suggests higher temperatures mean more tourism in Northern and Central Europe during the summer period when temperatures in the region become more attractive. Indeed, a survey conducted by EUROCONTROL found that 15% of stakeholders believe Climate Change poses an opportunity for them. Even so, we need to prepare if we want to exploit these opportunities. If some of the 121M European tourists who visit the Mediterranean every year start visiting Northern and Central Europe instead, the entire European aviation system needs to adapt to accommodate the change.

Nevertheless, EUROCONTROL reports that only 52% of organisations have started planning their adaptations (14% do not think it's necessary). The report found that the main reasons for not preparing are lack of information on how to prepare, lack of awareness of the need and lack of financial resources.

Therefore, all actors in the industry, whether local, regional, national or cross-border must consider their role in preparing themselves and the rest of the industry for Climate Change. We need to raise awareness of the need to prepare and provide guidance on how individual organisations can plan. Perhaps it is worth considering if these goals can be achieved faster and more effectively with the support of industry-wide bodies and initiatives such as the Connecting Europe Facility and Single European Sky, or indeed the trade associations such as CANSO and ACI.

Planning will help identify the breadth and nature of investments needed. Some organisations may also be encouraged to provide further assistance through financial support, technical support or incentive schemes.

Climate Change poses challenges and opportunities for many organisations across the aviation industry and it seems that not enough is being done to prepare for it. It's true that a large part of this would be done by adopting sustainable practices and reducing our greenhouse gas emission to limit climate change. But more needs to be done to also raise awareness and to guide organisations on how to adapt at both the individual and industry level. The industry stands to lose a lot if we wait to fix the unmitigated impact of Climate Change as it happens. We need to invest today to save tomorrow!

[1] Namely Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and UK

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