Global aviation industry sets net zero goal for 2050

The 193 countries that form the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have pledged to support an “ambitious” goal that would see the sector achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Members of the United Nations aviation agency have have reached a “historic agreement” on an ambitious collective long-term goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Although not legally binding, the decision aligns countries with aviation industry goals to make air travel more sustainable and reach net zero by mid-century.

“The adoption by States of this new long-term goal for decarbonized air transport, following similar commitments by industry groups, will contribute significantly to the green innovation and implementation momentum, which must be accelerated over the next few decades to ultimately achieve emission-free propulsion for flight,” said Salvatore Sciacchitano, President of the ICAO Council.

UK Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan described the vote as “a historic step, not just for the future of aviation, but for the wider international commitment to achieving net zero”.

“It’s an excellent result,” a diplomatic source told AFP, revealing that only four countries – including China – “had expressed reservations”.

The agreement should “rely on the combined effect” of several CO emissions2 reduction measures, including the development of new types of aviation technology, the streamlining of flight operations, and the increase in production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

SAFs are typically derived by combining jet fuel with alternatives such as biofuels or recycled oils from industrial food facilities.

“Countries made significant and very important diplomatic progress during this event, and on topics of critical importance to the future sustainability of our planet and the air transport system that serves and connects its people,” added the Minister. ICAO Secretary General, Juan Carlos Salazar.

ICAO has also agreed that airlines will use the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Program for International Aviation (CORSIA). Under this program, airlines would agree to a base year and all future emissions above the level of that period would have to be offset.

The threshold has now been set at 85% of 2019 carbon emissions.

States also agreed to support ICAO’s work to help accelerate the availability and use of SAFs, with a conference on aviation and alternative fuels to be held next year.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said airlines were “strongly encouraged” by the adoption of the climate target, which comes a year after the organization endorsed the same position at its own assembly general.

“The importance of the LTAG agreement cannot be underestimated,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. “The aviation industry’s commitment to net zero CO2 by 2050 requires supportive government policies.

“The global drive to decarbonize aviation that underpins this agreement must follow delegates home and lead to practical policy actions that allow all states to support the industry in the rapid progress it is determined to make. “

The European group Destination 2050, which includes Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), Airlines for Europe (A4E) and European Regions Airline Association (ERA), has come out in favor of the ICAO agreement.

“Aviation, as a global business, needs climate policies that ensure harmonized approaches for all stakeholders and must be met by proportionate actions across all regions,” Destination 2050 said in a statement.

“The global aviation community welcomes this historic agreement,” said Luis Felipe de Oliveira, director of Airports Council International, which represents 1,950 airports in 185 countries.

“This is a watershed moment in the effort to decarbonize the aviation sector, with governments and industry now moving in the same direction, with a common policy framework,” he said. in a press release.

Despite the praise, some campaigners have argued that the measures are not enough to reduce emissions from industry, which contributes about 2.5% of global carbon emissions. Additionally, 50% of airline emissions come from the top 1% of travelers, according to a 2018 study.

Moreover, the current guidelines are only recommendations and are not yet legally binding.

“Now is not the time for the Paris aviation agreement. Let’s not pretend that a non-binding target will bring aviation down to zero,” said Jo Dardenne of the NGO Transport & Environment.

“The only way to solve this problem is to stop burning kerosene. Stopping burning kerosene requires setting a more efficient price for kerosene and investing in alternatives.”

The ICAO general assembly was the first since the start of the pandemic, which has heavily affected the aviation industry. In 2021, the number of air passengers was only half of the 4.5 billion in 2019, marking a slight rebound from the 60% year-on-year decline in 2020.

The UK was one of the first countries to include aviation emissions reductions in its 2021 climate targets and helped launch the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition at COP26. That same year, British Airways Original FAS to cover the needs for all its flights between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh during the COP26 climate conference in October.

In May, a new Institute for the Development of Clean, Safe and Sustainable Air Travel was established by Imperial College London, to support the industry’s journey to net zero.

According to the airlines, it will take investments of $1.5 billion between 2021 and 2050 to decarbonize the sector.

Sign up for the E&T News email to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.