After years of talks, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a body of the United Nations, reached a long-term aviation climate goal of net-zero by 2050.
1. Net-zero by 2050
A UN body agreed to a long-term aspirational goal for net-zero aviation emissions by 2050 on October 7, the first official global pledge to address the challenge. The decision came to fruition despite challenges from China and other countries which are largely aligned with airlines amid pressure to curb air pollution. The industry described the move as a “milestone”, while European countries see ot as a “compromise” intended to lead to a more ambitious target.
The announcement was applauded by members at the 193-nation International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) assembly, held every three years in Montreal, Canada. “While the agreement is not perfect, it builds upon the notable progress we have made in recent decades and will prevent a patchwork of global measures,” said US airline trade group Airlines for America.
The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) called it a “milestone day for the aviation sector”.
It’s time for aviation to move towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We’re working with our international partners to make this a reality, and today’s historic agreement is an important step forward.Pete Buttigieg, US Transportation Secretary
Aviation is a significant contributor to climate change–and can be a big part of the solution. The U.S. is working with Singapore to prioritize sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and meet our ambitious climate goal of net zero emissions by 2050. #ICAOA41 🇺🇸🇸🇬 pic.twitter.com/dcSe1Gp7p2— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) October 7, 2022
Adina Vălean, European Commissioner for Transport welcomed the UN step saying it will bring predictability and encourage investment and development in clean tech and fuels “Having a single, global goal for an international industry like aviation will provide much-needed certainty for the industry, investors and all states involved,” said Vălean.
A ICAO preparatory meeting in July had laid the goal’s groundwork after years of talks. The UN body cannot impose rules but its decisions influence national policies and encourage industry decisions.
Airlines last year adopted a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 in a de facto dress-rehearsal that drew reservations from Chinese carriers, reflecting Beijing’s more cautious stance on multilateral action. Recently, EasyJet published its roadmap outlining how it can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, following the airline’s commitment to the UN-backed Race to Zero last year.
🔴 HAPPENING LIVE! 📢 #ICAOA41 reaches historic agreement on a collective long-term aspirational goal (LTAG) of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050! #NetZero #ReconnectingTheWorld pic.twitter.com/lWYDABmsSu— ICAO (@icao) October 7, 2022
3. More SAF
Last week’s assembly also approved changes to the baseline of ICAO’s flagship aviation emissions agreement CORSIA. Officials hope a global target set through ICAO will go beyond industry announcements to boost supplies of new sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and encourage private investment. “Policymakers must send the demand signal,” said SAF-producer Alder Fuels Chief Sustainability Officer Nancy Young.
Being a notable hard-to-decarbonise industry, aviation is likely to remain in the cross-hairs of environmentalists who see the exercise as a smokescreen, with many airlines having been accused of greenwashing practices. Jo Dardenne, Aviation Director at Brussels-based Transport & Environment, said it was better to have a goal than nothing, but decried the lack of a plan to achieve the target: “It’s a goal without teeth.”