ICAO’s Partnership in Driving Global Sustainable Development: An Interview with Dr. Fang Liu


Aviation brings the world’s people and cultures together, bringing support and social and economic benefits from the largest cities to the smallest communities – it plays a vital role in helping to support development worldwide. The benefits of air transport connectivity must be protected with the appropriate support from governments to allow the industry to achieve its full potential as a connector of people, trade and tourism and as a driver of sustainable development.

With air transport supporting 13 of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, advising States on technical and policy matters relating to air aviation issues called for an important partnership, and a commitment to assessing accomplishments and addressing new and emerging challenges.

At the recent United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (HABITAT III), that was held in Quito, Ecuador from 17 to 20 October 2016, Dr. Fang Liu, the Secretary General of ICAO, and Dr. Joan Clos, the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enhance cooperation between urban development and aviation and strengthen their cooperation. The United Nations General Assembly convened the third United Nations global summit after adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

During the Conference ICAO’s Dr. Fang Liu spoke to the UN News Centre about the role the aviation sector can play in sustainable urban development, that interview is shared below.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Fang Liu, Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). UN Photo/Kim Haughton

Fang Liu: Indeed, aviation plays a very unique role. It connects the world with people; bringing families, friends and businesses together, as well as opportunities. Nowadays, aviation carries about 100 thousand daily flights. By these one hundred thousand daily flights, it transports 10 million passengers every day. In addition to that, you also probably know, tourism is a mainstay of finance and income for cities.  Half of one point four billion tourists are carried by air transport.  So you can see the role of aviation in that part. With these numbers, aviation actually contributed 2.7 trillion US dollar – roughly 3.5% of global GDP – and supported around 63.5 million jobs globally, as well as contributed 35% of trade volume globally. In addition to this number, I can also share with you the importance of aviation for urbanization.

As I have mentioned, tourism is one of the mainstay for city development. With air transport – which is the road in the air – you can see that it connects cities with the rest of the world. So this provides great opportunity for global access, as the global market opens to local producers. In addition to this fundamental role, aviation also has an irreplaceable role in providing humanitarian aid; in particular, the post-disaster and emergency medical aid to the people in need. This explains the important role that aviation plays, in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It also explains five strategy objectives which contribute to 13 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

UN News Centre:  Talking about sustainable development, how relevant are the 3 pillars of sustainable development to ICAO’s programs and objectives, especially Sustainable Development Goal 6: “To secure the well-being of present and future generation by striving for a balance in social, economic and environmental objectives?

Fang Liu: I mentioned the important role aviation can play in terms of social and economic development. Now I am going to talk about the environment pillar. As you probably know, at our last assembly – the 39th Assembly which was just held a couple of weeks ago at our headquarters in Montreal – our member states adopted the first ever global market-based measures aimed at mitigating the emission caused by international flights.  That is the first ever major industrial sector to take these measures to tackle environmental issues. In addition to that, our organization also took mass basket measures to mitigate the impact on the environment due to aviation. These measures include innovative measures – innovative technology – including new standards we’ve just adopted for measuring CO2 emission for our new aircraft.  As a matter of fact, our aircraft is 80% more efficient than the first commercial flight introduced in the early 19th century.

And other measures include efficient procedures and management of air navigation, which can greatly reduce the emission caused by our international flights. And of course another important measure is alternative fuels, which already has lots of experimental flights, and some airports already provide alternative fuels for commercial flights. We need to make more effort in commercial deployment of alternative fuels. Our airports also make great efforts to adopt new technology and new energy modes, in order to reduce energy consumption, and to have better services and efficient operation to reduce the impact due to our aviation activities. All these efforts aim to reduce our CO2 emission, which represents only 1.3% of the overall emissions around the world. But you can see that our sector truly makes firm determination to ensure our future, and that of our planet, is sustainable.

Fang Liu, Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), addresses the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. UN Photo/Kim Haughton

UN News Centre:  Again, with reference to Sustainable Development Goals, as you know, “leaving no one behind” is at the core. Right now we have more than 1 billion people in this world experiencing some form of disability, and many face difficulties and barriers when travelling. What would you recommend in order to make urban development inclusive, and accessible to persons with disabilities?

Fang Liu: That is a very important question. Aviation, like all other transportation modes, should recognize and accommodate this passenger segment.  And as you know, aviation has its standards and recommended practices in the Convention on International Civil Aviation, which deals with facilitation for disabled travelers. And we also developed guidelines for the states to introduce in their policies, in order to ensure that all the stages and segments of air travel accommodate passengers with disabilities. This would eventually allow them to be fully integrated into our air transport system.

What we would like to see is for the inclusivity for disability to become institutionalized and regulatory. Like I have just mentioned, in order to meet the needs of disabled persons, ICAO standards and practices should be constantly updated and our guidelines should also follow those lines. And this is to also ensure that the provisions included in our standards will make it clear and encourage our member states to comply with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

UN News Centre:  And from our social media fans: what three words come to mind when you think about sustainable cities?

Fang Liu: Connected, inclusive, dynamic. If cities are connected locally and globally, by all means of transportation, it will create a positive impression to the rest of the world. It also makes people feel connected, understand each other better, and increase and enhance friendships. Inclusive means providing facilities to accommodate all the needs and expectations of all the people in the cities. In order for cities to be more attractive, with much more potential to develop, they should be dynamic. It is important to welcome all the new ideas and innovations which will enhance a city’s competitiveness and further ensure the comfort of people living in that city.

UN News Centre:  Another question: “What is the most important thing we can do, to make cities more loveable and sustainable?”

Fang Liu: All the UN organizations are striving to work very closely to implement the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. What I would like to see is for all the states to work with all the UN organizations, with their own responsibilities in their respective areas. When the world works together, urban development and cities will have better planning and synergy, more coordination, and harmony, leading to better living standards and development for our world.