April 2nd, 2009
01:49 PM GMT
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GENEVA, Switzerland – While all eyes have been on London and the G-20 circus, I've been in Geneva covering the 4th Aviation and Environment Summit. For two days, representatives from the biggest airlines and manufacturers down to the smallest support companies in the industry gathered together to discuss their impact on the environment and how to reduce it.

Willie Walsh, center, CEO of British Airways, at this week’s Aviation and Environment Summit.
Willie Walsh, center, CEO of British Airways, at this week’s Aviation and Environment Summit.

Just stop and think about that for a moment: big name CEOs from companies who are, in a commercial sense, at war with one another in the battle to win custom, sitting down together to work towards a common goal.

Industry insiders say this is nothing new. Arch rivals have long worked together with regard to safety - and that co-operation has led to a form of transport that is the safest in the world. Now they are using that same co-operative spirit to find solutions to an issue that, like safety, has the potential to damage their industry.

Aviation often gets a bad press for its environmental impact. In the UK in particular there are some very vocal protest groups who do a pretty good job of painting it as the climate-change villain. The public perception is of a self-interested industry that is only concerned with growing passenger numbers and profits.

But as a cynical journalist I have to say that I am very impressed with just how seriously aviation takes its environmental responsibilities. Real, measurable progress has been made and continues to be made as the industry strives to reduce its carbon footprint.

Right now aviation is responsible for between two and three percent of global CO2 emissions. This figure is much smaller than many climate change protest groups would have you believe - but the industry scored a public relations own goal when the climate debate first began as it attempted to fend off criticism by arguing that "it's just three percent."

It now recognises that, however small it may seem compared to other polluters, even this figure is too high, especially given that it is likely to rise as the industry continues to expand.

So, from engines and airframes, air traffic management systems through to innovative recycling programs, efficiencies and emission reductions are being achieved both in the air and on the ground. In the future "bio-fuels" and new engine and airframe technologies offer the potential for carbon neutral air travel.

There are still many hurdles to overcome and the issues affecting the industry as it works towards its "emission free" target are too varied and complex to go into here. (In particular those concerning emissions taxes and the way in which the various trade bodies and government and non-governmental organisations with a vested interest communicate with each other.) But the industry knows that it needs to act quickly and is working hard to overcome potential obstacles to progress.

At the end of the summit I moderated a 90-minute platform debate between six major industry figures. As you'd expect, there was consensus on some issues, a difference of opinion on others. I did, however, manage to get everyone to agree that perhaps now is the time to go on the PR offensive and make sure everyone hears the message that "it's 3 percent. It's too high and we're working damn hard to fix it."

What do you think? Is the aviation industry doing enough to tackle green issues? Or has it unfairly taken too much of the blame? Tell us below.

You can watch my report on the 4th Aviation and Environment summit in the April edition of CNN Business Traveller. You can read more about the summit and the issues at www.enviro.aero. For more on the aviation industry see Business Traveller.

Filed under: Business

April 2nd, 2009
01:10 PM GMT
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LONDON, England - The protesters at the G-20 summit have been getting a lot of attention by the media. So in that sense, they've accomplished what they wanted. And there seems to be two threads of coverage.

Do those intent on the destruction of banks serve any purpose at all?
Do those intent on the destruction of banks serve any purpose at all?

One British tabloid ran a headline "BLOOD ON THE STREETS" with a picture of a protester with streams of blood coming down the side of his head.

Another tabloid showed a policeman pushing back a protestor in a large crowd, and it read "ANARCHY DOES NOT RULE UK."

Which headline more accurately reflects the reality on the ground? I would say the latter one.

The police by and large kept the anarchists, as some are called, at bay.

Yes, they did manage to break a few windows at a Royal Bank of Scotland branch - the disgraced bank which has now been nationalized.

Its former head, Fred Goodwin is a much-hated figure for the £700,000-a-year pension he is receiving, despite billions of dollar being spent to bail out the mess he put the bank and taxpayers in.

Some of those who came bent on destruction, no doubt went home grumpy.

One protester, an artist who gave his name as "Morganic" was quoted as saying: "I'd have liked to have seen more smashed windows. I remember the poll tax riots - that was much more fun."

Fun? Perhaps Morganic should rename himself Moronic. Not fun for the taxpayer who's shelling out an additional £7 million or more because of the extra police security.

And not fun for the many small business owners in the area who lost trade as a result of the demonstrations.

Axa, the insurer, estimates the losses could be between £300 million and £500 million - that's upwards of $720 million.

I think one of the ironies lost on these anti-capitalists protesters is the huge benefit that free enterprise brings and the innovation that goes along with it.

All their methods of communicating, be it on their computers, or mobile phones ahead of the protests, would not be possible without technology - technology brought to the masses through venture capitalists or shareholders willing to risk their money to invest in companies.

Those protesting against greedy bankers, or the war in Iraq, or on behalf of climate change, all have legitimate reasons to demonstrate. It's part of a strong democracy.

But for those intent on destruction, for those who didn't have as much fun as hoped, I say good riddance.

Do you think some of the demonstrators went too far?

Do those intent on the destruction of banks serve any purpose at all?

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