SUNx Calls for Climate Neutral Aviation 2050 Moon-shot

16th Annual Assad Kotaite Lecture 2019

Professor Geoffrey Lipman

Co-creator  SUNx (Strong Universal Network)

It’s great to be back in Montreal, where I got my grounding in aviation half a century ago. And became a New Canadian. It’s a huge honour to give this Annual Assad Kotaite lecture.
I am also reminded of the advice I learned early on as a public speaker – tell them what you are going to tell them: then tell them: then tell them what you told them.
So, I plan to unveil a two-part story

One why we must transform to Climate Friendly Travel ~ measured: green: 2050 proof, over the next 3 decades starting now,

Two why we need a Climate Neutral Aviation Moon-shot, as a central initiative and how we might achieve that.                                     

And in the process, I hope to convince you that these two interlinked fundamental behavioural changes will help to Make Aviation Great Again.    


But first let me express my sincere thanks to the Royal Aeronautical Society. I am honoured to give this prestigious lecture in memory of Assad Kotaite, with whom I had the pleasure and privilege of working during the first two decades of my career, with IATA in the 1960’s and 70’s. When air transport deregulation, and the challenge to the established post war system was at its apogee. The progressive transformation of IATA, with the quiet but vital support of ICAO and the firm hand of Dr Kotaite on the tiller were key elements of the successful multilateral response. I well remember the many private meetings, his ever-present smile, (the kind that Kenneth Clarke called the smile of reason) his immense decency and courtesy as well as the wise counsel he always gave.

So today I want to underpin my remarks on what I will call The Kotaite Spirit of public service, his broad global vision and his deep understanding of the realities of institutional evolution in the UN System – the strengths and the weaknesses.

And I want to couple these ideals with similar qualities of one of the greatest Canadians of all time, my friend the late Maurice Strong – the original architect of today’s global sustainable development activities now embedded in the SDGs and the Paris Climate Accord.

I worked very closely with Maurice during the last three decades, since the Rio Earth Summit that he organized – latterly in China. And SUNx The Strong Universal Network was Co-created with him. Maurice shared those same characteristics of service, of vision and of the realities of institutional change in the UN system where he was so influential.

I make this pivotal connection between Assad Kotaite and Maurice Strong, at the outset; because we are at a critical time in the human journey - as the future of air transport, and the Travel & Tourism ecosystem that it has always been underpinning, comes face to face with existential climate change.

The Climate Crisis is the biggest challenge for humanity. It portends at best massive disruption in our lifestyles across the planet: at worst our very existence.

Aviation is firmly in the cross hairs. Its markets, products and customers can no longer depend on stable predictable weather patterns. It is under a fierce challenge from committed idealistic young activists and increasingly, by political decisionmakers inspired or terrified by them. The media are all over the issue. It  has gained global traction, public recognition and  mass momentum in the past year.

Only this week the EU, which has allocated 1 in every 4 budget Euro to green solutions, focused on the need to rein in aviation emissions and to make all actions fit the Paris 1.5 Trajectory. The Energy Council focused on taxation including fuel taxation even today. I came here directly from COP 25 where this view was widely shared.  CNN is broadcasting hourly that by 2050 Air Transport will account for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

UNWTO upped the ante on this in the last week, suggesting that tourism transport CO2 emissions will be 105% higher in 2030 than 2005. Noting this is due to our well-publicised growth forecasts including domestic travel and our increasingly unique reliance on air transport’s fossil fuel propulsion.

So Paradoxically:

Despite a half a century of positive contributions to human development.

Despite incredible expansion, to cover every part of the planet.

Despite broad commoditization of products, to make them available to the masses.

Despite huge technology leaps, that make a mockery of yesterday’s flight limits. Sydney to London in one 19-hour hop being the latest

Despite driving directly and indirectly some 10% of the global economy and stimulating more jobs than any other sector – dramatically more in the poorest countries and small island developing states

Despite overcoming along the way, seminal challenges of terrorism, fuel price spikes, global economic meltdown, 9/11 and the ever-present tension between competition and regulation.

Despite all of this incredible 50-year history of success, air transport is at its lowest level of positive public perception ever.

Flight Shame has moved into the consumer lexicon and is taking hold in the marketplace. It is being taught in schools and transmitted over the internet. Greta Thunberg with nearly 3 million, finger dancing, twitter followers, is taking boats across the Atlantic to avoid planes and stirring up a worldwide social media fan fest.

And its biting: several European States are seriously considering new aviation fuel taxes to discourage demand. IATA is preparing a Communications Campaign to show why flying is still a power for good and connectivity is better than sliced bread, No doubt in close coordination with the Travel & Tourism Alphabet Organizations.  And CORSIA is under attack, before it even formally engages,




Because our emissions are sitting out there like the elephant in the room – forecast to grow more rapidly than any other activity on the planet.


Because much of our fuel is  tax exempt

Because our product value chain is getting less and less fun. Airport security is increasingly hateful; distances to walk to gates are getting longer and more Guchi / Puchi dominated; In flight seating is getting tighter and tighter, for all but the rich or privileged. And so called “overtourism” and cleverly promoted fares that cost less than the taxi to the airport are the new norm. We are no longer tomorrow’s dream but todays commoditised reality.   

And above all because we lag behind the rest of the world in our ultimate 2050 ambition. And keep explaining why there are no exciting options for medium to long haul flights

When everyone else is increasingly focusing on Climate Neutral 2050, ICAO and IATA are saying we will fall far short at 50% of 2005 levels and pushing a message of continually increasing carbon efficiency, per passenger carried.

And our sector’s well-coordinated public response is CORSIA which only kicks in fully by 2027, ATAG’s factually right but very cautious Sustainable Aviation Fuel Strategy and IATA’s intensified benefits communication vision.

Where is the daring of the Wright Brothers? The tenacity of Bleriot? The imagination of Lindbergh? Where is the spirit of Kotaite and Strong?

Tonight, I want to suggest we can (and indeed must) re-kindle that spirit of our pioneer visionaries, through a brave new world of Climate Friendly Travel. And then I want to suggest some ways we can achieve that world and in so doing, take aviation out of the cross hairs of our kids and grandkids. 

At SUNx Malta, we define Climate Friendly Travel as having 3 core components. Measured: Green: and 2050 proof.

First. It must be Measured to manage ~ linking todays tourism numbers and tomorrows environment numbers – especially carbon and other polluting gases. Balancing our socio-economic and our environmental impacts. If they don’t balance, there will come a time when we simply won’t be able to operate at rates that meet projected demand. And rightly so.

Two excellent studies released this week at COP 25 show the challenges of finding adequate measurements – one by UNWTO and the International Transport Forum looks at models of consumer demand for tourism from 2005 and projected through 2030. The other by Amadeus and Griffiths University in Australia looks at absolute and relative aviation emission growth projections to 2050 highlighting examples of actions by airlines and governments to improve efficiency and reduce carbon impacts. Both conclude our data sets are inconsistent and inadequate to deal with the challenge of continuously increasing emission growth

For 20 years we have pursued concepts of national satellite economic accounting and algorithmic modelling in UNWTO and WTTC. While outside our sector, in another silo, there are equally committed “boffins”, developing satellite national environmental accounts. We must bring these together so that Travel & Tourism growth can be automatically measured against its environmental consequences. So that effective resilience systems can be put in place. UNWTO work in this field must be more intensified, more inclusive, more user friendly.

Second. It must be Green to grow ~ low carbon: socially inclusive: favouring nature-based solutions and circular economy grounded. In short, all tourism must become eco-tourism. It must reflect the SDG’s and their 2030 targets.

Third It must be 2050 proof. Using 4IR technology to find climate neutral pathways. With people firmly in control not just machines, And geared to the Paris 1.5o scenario.

Our transformation must track the paradigm shift of the world at large to the New Climate Economy, where reducing carbon and other greenhouse gases will be the primary policy consideration, factored deeply into all production consumption, investment and information,

This is where SUNx comes in - as a tiny but feisty NGO committed to a Climate Neutral 2050 future. And nothing else but a Plan For Our Kids.  

Our first Annual Report on Climate Friendly Travel was published with WTTC in the side-lines of the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York. We will update it every year in this same context

It found that the sector is not going far enough: fast enough: identified the continuing growth of transport emissions as the major problem in an emerging New Climate Economy, with aviation as the pivotal challenge. It concluded that we need to step up our ambitions,

SUNx Malta will host the first annual Think Tank in early 2020 to review and refine the Report

We will at the same time launch a Climate Friendly Travel Ambitions Registry, for companies and communities to file 2050 emission reduction plans. This will be closely linked to the UNFCCC central Ambitions Register. To encourage companies and communities to stretch their` ambitions, in line with National targets and to begin to support the public in offsetting,

We will pursue a learning campaign, using the internet to inject good practice into schools, universities and training centres. And nurture 100,000 Strong Climate Champions across all UN States, by 2030 to help companies and communities transform. Our own Greta Thunberg’s.

Last but not least we will build SDG17 partnerships with likeminded stakeholders for widening and deepening outreach. For transformation by 2050, of a sector driving 10% of global socio-economic activity and touching directly billions of travellers and indirectly, almost everyone in the world in their aspiration or visitor reception. We have started already in Asia with the EXO Travel Foundation and here in Canada with Ingle International.

We know this is a monumental task. Especially given the other challenges we know we will be facing from a massive shift to the digital lifestyle, the new Climate Economy and the disruptive, absorption of the 4th Industrial Revolution, most particularly artificial Intelligence and cybersecurity attacks

    BUT even all of this Strategic adaptation will be fruitless for our sector, if aviation takes a different tack from the rest of society. If emissions in fact remain at 2020 levels or increase relative to others and increasingly represent the most visible part of planetary pollution.

    All the countless benefits so well documented over the past two decades will be lost if we fail to find a positive solution to aviation’s Climate Challenge This is a mission change not a PR change. Only when we increase our ambition to be Climate Neutral by 2050 can we sustainably change the narrative.

    3 years ago at the Arab Air Carriers President’s Assembly, at the time of the Paris Climate talks I addressed this issue, calling for a “Moon-shot” to find a clean substitute for today’s fossil fuel propulsion.

    A “Moon-shot” being taken from President Kennedy’s plan to put the first man on the moon within a decade. A task previously considered impossible.

    Kennedy’s moon-shot required vision, commitment, massive funding and steadfast belief in the powers of human creativity.

    My friend Andrew Charlton, the editor of Aviation Advocacy has picked up this clean aviation moon-shot idea in his latest issue – detailing the massive collaborative framework for leadership: financing and operations7, that resulted in Neil Armstrong’s memorable “small step for man; large step for mankind”.

    Let me elaborate here and turn to my second major point and suggest a way to advance such an idea as a ”Virtual Moonshot”. To harness all our disparate efforts into shared vision and action plan, for Climate Neutral Travel and Tourism 2050.

    The Secretary General of the UN could announce at Davos 2020 a Blue Ribbon Climate Neutral Aviation Commission with a two year report back mandate.

    It will have a single mission to put in place safe, clean aviation propulsion by 2050 in conformity with the UN Climate Neutral goal

    To drive a solution to the impasse between a vital sector for human development that is historically locked in yesterday’s response to change but must find a no carbon propulsion system that doesn’t compromise safety and doesn’t pollute. With a massively rich, subsidised and dominant fossil fuel sector that doesn’t seem to be looking hard enough for creative solutions at scale that is necessary

    The UN through the UNFCCC has the climate neutral 2050 mandate. The WEF has the proven capacity to convene cross sectoral coalitions plus the skill set to manage them. It has already taken on board a seamless travel initiative, with some similar challenging characteristics.

    Given the importance of the issue to society as a whole the virtual Moon-shot Commission must be chaired by a known global leader, who understands the issues from both a strategic geopolitical viewpoint as well as a broad stakeholder perspective who can carry the support inside and outside the sector.

    Helen Clarke, former PM of New Zealand and Head of UNDP springs to mind. Or Achim Steiner the Deputy UNSG and current Head of UNDP Someone who is widely respected and knows fully the massive benefits that air transport brings to all communities – particularly small developing and island states. Or even my friend Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s former Environment and Tourism Minister well known and trusted across UNFCCC, UNWTO and IATA circles.

    Similarly, Richard Branson of Virgin: Tom Enders of Airbus and Pol Pollman, who is helping WTTC in this area, are the kind of names  that could be Commission Members and would understand the need to bridge silos and drive innovation to scale in a cross sectoral setting

    Who would have guessed 5 years ago that airlines and airports would be seriously talking about electric planes for short haul regional services? Or that Virgin would be talking hyperloops. We should never eliminate that potential for innovation,

    The Moonshot Commission could function within the “can do” broad UNFCCC framework with support of the leadership of ICAO and IATA/ATAG, ACI and particularly the close links with WTTC and UNWTO.

    It would build on existing uncoordinated relationships within that framework and accept that CORSIA is a positive but so far inadequately ambitious enough, interim solution.

    It needs political support. Here the EU which has shown itself to be the most consistent leader on climate resilience is a key. Ideally it needs China, which is also very strong on new climate energy, transformation, together with the Group of 77 – all of whom share a common belief in air transport as a vital tool for development. and of course, ultimately the USA, when the White House is no longer occupied by the quintessential climate denier,

    It needs all of the big players in the Air Transport Action Group and the Uniting Travel Groupings to cooperate.

    ICAO and IATA are pivotal and would need to find ways to make CORSIA 2050 Ambition align with the UNFCCC goal.

    ACI Europe has declared that its members will all be Climate Neutral 2050. How can this embrace all airports? And their Duty-Free players, Can airports be a key communications vehicle with a single moon-shot message to the billions of travellers who pass through them. Rather than massive shopping malls peddling cigarettes that tell you how smoking them will kill you and glass bottles of booze that increase the weight and pollution of every flight?

    WTTC for example is working closely with UNFCCC to get all its influential Members to join the Climate Neutral 2050 party. How can the moon-shot help to accelerate such an initiative and to generalize it across the entire sector? Particularly the 80% of SME’s that dominate our complex supply chain. How to bring in the big communicating online giants?

    It will need to take account of the so far small industry innovations in clean energy and encourage massive scalable actions. The Amadeus / Griffiths Report says that

    Individual airline emission saving efforts to date represent at best from 0.1 - 0.3% of overall fuel saving

    The only reduction from 35 airlines studied is per ask (ie by spreading the efficiency gain across more seats) While absolute emissions increase.

    It will have to study best case examples and consider scalability. The IAG Group with massive carriers like BA and Iberia has a laudable climate neutral 2050 ambition. Will its plan be transferable to others? This is not a competitive battle. It is everyone’s fight where we must hang together or hang separately as Benjamin Franklin famously said.

    It needs the big Fossil Fuel companies to bring their expertise and their massive financial resources to the table. They have much at stake if our sector can’t slay this dragon. One major fossil fuel company last year made more profit than all of the world’s airlines combined. They are already investing seriously in alternative land and sea transport clean propulsion as well as SAF. Why not increase their commitment radically.

    It needs civil society – including the young activists turning their enthusiasm into a positive climate response. Why not Greta Thunberg? And the media to ensure transparency.

    And it will ultimately need the support of the travelling public – paying for new style clean green services with the full costs of pollution incorporated into the fares. And paying for offsets seamlessly without making it seem yet another commercial optional extra like baggage or rental cars. Included in tomorrow’s carbon accounting apps and logged indelibly on their personal blockchain ledger, along with the supplier’s smart contract. This is the new norm they will be dealing with every day in the New Climate Economy.

    The best parallel I can give for such a Moonshot initiative

        Inside the sector, is the excellent original Committee des Sages which I had the privilege to serve on, under the brilliant leadership of Hermann De Kroo: that pushed the EU liberalization framework to a successful conclusion from a seeming regulatory stand-off.

        Outside the sector The New Climate Economy Commission dealing with transition to a low carbon world under the Co-Chairmanship of Felipe Calderon and Lord Stern.

    Last but not least it needs the spirit and vision of Assad Kotaite and of Maurice Strong. Both of whom shared a great belief that Travel & Tourism, driven as ever by imaginative aviation strategies could be a force for a better world. The glass is half full: not half empty. Airlines are using sustainable aviation propulsion today – there have been hundreds of thousands of drop-in flights since 2011. BUT according to ATAG they represent less than 0.01% of all flights. And the ambition target is 2% by 2025. We must go much further; much faster.

    Climate Friendly Travel - Measured: Green and 2050 proof, can provide the underpinning and a Climate Neutral 2050 Aviation Moon-shot can provide the impetus.



    i. SUNx - Strong Universal Network - a legacy program for the late Maurice Strong, arguably the father of sustainable development and an enthusiastic believer in the potential of Travel & Tourism as a sustainability change agent. “x” represents the eXistential Climate Crisis






























































Geoffrey Lipman, SUNx Co-founder


This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

The site will not function correctly without cookies. Learn more

I understand

Newsletter Sign Up

Invalid Input
Invalid Input
Invalid Input
This form collects your name and email and adds you to our mailing list. Please consent to this below.
Invalid Input