The world’s airlines have pledged to achieve net zero operation by 2050 as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) gathered for its Annual General Meeting in Boston.
Describing the aim as a “huge challenge” it will require the reduction of 21.2 gigatons of carbon in the next 28 years.
“The world’s airlines have taken a momentous decision to ensure that flying is sustainable. The post-COVID-19 re-connect will be on a clear path towards net zero. That will ensure the freedom of future generations to sustainably explore, learn, trade, build markets, appreciate cultures and connect with people the world over. With the collective efforts of the entire value chain and supportive government policies, aviation will achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
He added an immediate enabler is the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). This will stabilize international emissions at 2019 levels in the short-to-medium term. Support for this was reaffirmed in today’s resolution.
Walsh said airline will need wider support from the aviation industry. He explained all industry stakeholders, including governments must each individually take responsibility to address the environmental impact of their policies, products, and activities.
“Achieving sustainable global connectivity cannot be accomplished on the backs of airlines alone. All parts of the aviation industry must work together within a supportive government policy framework to deliver the massive changes that are needed, including an energy transition,” added Walsh. “That is no different than what we are seeing in other industries. Road transport sustainability efforts, for example, are not being advanced by drivers building electric vehicles. Governments are providing policies and financial incentives for infrastructure providers, manufacturers and car owners to be able to collectively make the changes needed for a sustainable future. The same should apply to aviation.”
IATA said at the heart of the strategy is to abate as much CO2 as possible from in-sector solutions such as sustainable aviation fuels, new aircraft technology, more efficient operations and infrastructure, and the development of new zero-emissions energy sources such as electric and hydrogen power.
“Any emissions that cannot be eliminated at source will be eliminated through out-of-sector options such as carbon capture and storage and credible offsetting schemes,” it added.
“We have a plan. The scale of the industry in 2050 will require the mitigation of 1.8 gigatons of carbon. A potential scenario is that 65% of this will be abated through sustainable aviation fuels. We would expect new propulsion technology, such as hydrogen, to take care of another 13%. And efficiency improvements will account for a further 3%. The remainder could be dealt with through carbon capture and storage (11%) and offsets (8%). The actual split, and the trajectory to get there, will depend on what solutions are the most cost-effective at any particular time. Whatever the ultimate path to net zero will be, it is absolutely true that the only way to get there will be with the value chain and governments playing their role,” added Walsh.
The association added the energy transition needed to achieve net zero must be supported by a holistic government policy framework focused on realizing cost-effective solutions. This is particularly true in the area of SAF. Technology exists, but production incentives are needed to increase supply and lower costs.
Delegates at the conference called on governments ICAO to agree a long-term goal equivalent to the industry’s net zero by 2050 commitment. In line with the longstanding approach to managing aviation’s climate change impact, the resolution also called for governments to support CORSIA, coordinate policy measures and avoid a patchwork of regional, national, or local measures.
“Governments must be active partners in achieving net zero by 2050. As with all other successful energy transitions, government policies have set the course and blazed a trail towards success. The costs and investment risks are too high otherwise. The focus must be on reducing carbon. Limiting flying with retrograde and punitive taxes would stifle investment and could limit flying to the wealthy. And we have never seen an environment tax actually fund carbon-reducing activities. Incentives are the proven way forward. They solve the problem, create jobs and grow prosperity,” explained Walsh.
“There will be those who say that we face impossible numbers and technical challenges,” he added. “Aviation has a history of realizing what was thought to be impossible—and doing so quickly. From the first commercial flight to the first commercial jet was about 35 years. And twenty years on we had the first jumbo jet. Sustainability is the challenge of our generation. And today we are launching a transition that is challenging. But in 30 years it is also within reach of human ingenuity, provided governments and the whole industry work together and hold each other accountable for delivery.”