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CAPA-Envest Global analysis report: airline environmental challenges

Analysis

The airline industry, already under significant heat to reduce aircraft emissions, is now facing increasing pressure from corporate customers and investors to quantify what is actually being done to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Envest Global, an international practice specialising in carbon reduction strategy, says corporations are reviewing their spending on employee travel, not only to cut costs after COVID-19, but also to ensure that their chosen travel suppliers, including airlines, are treating climate change seriously.

Investors, too, are increasingly insisting on proof of meaningful decarbonisation actions and outcomes from companies in which they are shareholders. And strong investor collectives are forming to force changes to the climate plans and board compositions of companies which they deem to be under-delivering on sustainability.

These developments, and other key perspectives, are detailed in a comprehensive new report being jointly produced by CAPA and Envest Global to assess climate-related challenges and mitigation options for the airline industry.

Summary

  • CAPA and Envest Global have partnered to produce a comprehensive and ongoing assessment of the impact on the airline industry of increasing obligations to help mitigate aviation’s carbon emissions.
  • Corporations, in order to meet their own sustainability targets, are increasingly choosing their suppliers and business partners, including airlines, on the basis of their environmental credentials.
  • Investors are intensifying their scrutiny of companies in which they invest, including airlines, and are demanding greater details of sustainability strategies and proof of meaningful outcomes.
  • Of 100 major corporations with significant travel requirements, Envest Global found approximately 75 per cent were committed to achieving net zero emissions, typically between 2025 and 2030. 
  • Airlines are typically targeting net zero emissions by 2050, a lag in action which is increasingly unacceptable to investors, customers and the global community.
  • To register to receive more information about the upcoming CAPA Sustainability Report, visit: CAPA joins forces with carbon reduction specialist Envest Global

CAPA says the time is right for a detailed assessment of measures and costs associated with achieving sustainable aviation …

The CAPA-Envest partnership was announced by CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison during the September edition of CAPA Live, which was focused on sustainable aviation.

“At this important time in the airline industry’s history, we think something like this is really needed,” he said. “This will be a continuing exercise. Hopefully, it will be of great value for the airline industry.”

The first CAPA-Envest report is timed for release by mid-October, aligning with the United Nations’ 26th climate change summit, officially known as the Conference of the Parties (COP 26), to be hosted in Glasgow.

Airlines are under increasing pressure to address carbon emissions, or suffer commercial consequences

Envest Global Executive Director, Advisory, David Wills, said that the environmental performance of most companies had historically been driven by the need to comply with environmental regulations.

“What we’re seeing more recently is that pressure to improve is coming from customers and investors, to line up with their own commitments,” he said. “The airline industry is facing a real challenge here as those pressures increase.

“Decisions of customers, and who they fly with. Decisions of investors, and which airlines they invest in. The airlines that address the challenge best are probably the ones which are going to emerge as market leaders.”

Mr Wills said the most significant changes recently had been driven by large corporations, whose own sustainability plans included reducing emissions by curtailing business travel by their management and employees, and by choosing suppliers with strong sustainability performance – measures which directly impact airline use.

“We’ve looked at over 100 corporations which are among the biggest corporate travellers globally, and there’s a very consistent pattern that’s emerging,” he said. “About three quarters of those companies have made some net zero emissions commitment, and those commitments are typically in the timeframe of 2025-2030. If you compare that to airlines that have net zero commitments, they’re typically in the 2050 timeframe.

“About 40% of those companies have specific travel carbon reduction goals, in the order of 30 to 50% from a 2019 base. If airlines can’t align with corporate customers, then it forces a reduction in travel to enable those big customers to meet their own goals.”

That could lead to substantial reductions in employee travel by large corporations, or changing allegiances if companies move their travel accounts to other airlines with more agreeable and demonstrated decarbonisation strategies.

Investors are demanding greater transparency from companies on their climate strategies - and proof of meaningful outcomes

Envest Global’s Executive Director, Investment, Brett Mitsch, said that in many cases the investor community had developed significant strategies on climate change mitigation – well beyond the positions adopted by governments.

He said the number of signatories to the United Nations’ principles for responsible investment exceeded 4,000, which collectively managed approximately US$120 trillion in assets. These investors ranged from major fund managers such as BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street to smaller investors with strategic stakes.

“You’ve got a really strong set of large-scale investors who are looking to make change, not just in the airline industry but across all industries in dealing with climate change,” said Mr Mitsch.

“You’re seeing a concerted effort by the investor community to understand where their risks are from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective. And they’re demanding greater disclosure and transparency by all of the companies that they’ve got stakes in.

“Stakeholder or shareholder activism is on the rise across all those industries that have got hard-to-abate greenhouse gas emissions, so oil and gas, transport in general, and airlines clearly are part of that equation. We believe this is truly an existential threat. Even though aviation is a hard-to-abate industry, there is a demand for doing better.”

Mr Mitsch said many airlines were investing heavily in carbon offsets, which was acknowledged by investors.

“But the investors are starting to say, ‘Well that’s great, but that’s only netting off emissions. What are you doing to actually get to absolute zero, not just net zero?’

“We’re seeing from the investor community a far greater expectation by airlines of coordinated monitoring, reporting, and truth in advertising, as it were, of their operations.”

To register to receive more information about the upcoming CAPA Sustainability Report, Visit: CAPA joins forces with carbon reduction specialist Envest Global 


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