UN Aviation Group Vows to Achieve Net Zero by 2050

Published on: 12 October 2022
by KnowESG

At a United Nations aviation meeting, more than 200 countries and organisations made a formal promise to reach net zero by 2050. This goal includes plans to make and use more sustainable aviation fuels.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted a collective long-term global aspirational goal to reach net zero. The organisation says to reach the target it also needs to accelerate the adoption of new aircraft technologies, offset carbon, and streamline flight operations. To help with increasing the deployment of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), ICAO also formed a programme to increase investment and financing of clean fuel. The net-zero vow came at the end of a two-week meeting in Montreal of ICAO members from 184 countries and 57 organisations.

Aviation accounted for 2.4% of the world’s emissions in 2018, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Some estimates, though, say that if nothing changes, the number of flights and the slow development of green technologies will cause aviation emissions to triple by 2050.

ICAO previously established emissions standards for new aircraft and says 135 countries have voluntarily submitted plans to lower aviation emissions. The commitment made in Montreal does not set targets specifically by country or airline, and the organisation doesn’t have the authority to make regulations based on the overall 2050 goal.

The United Kingdom is an example of a nation that recently outlined its intentions for aviation emissions improvements. The UK wants all airports and flights within the country to be carbon-neutral by 2040. Similar to what the ICAO wants to do, the UK wants to set up a SAF mandate, make aircraft that don't put out any pollution, and find ways to get rid of carbon.

Some countries could be slower to adapt, and the New York Times reported that China and India said in ICAO discussions that their airlines would need until 2060 or 2070 to achieve net zero. Dan Rutherford of the International Council on Clean Transportation told the Associated Press that aviation emissions will need to start decreasing as soon as 2025 for the industry to hit net zero by 2050.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that SAF could contribute 65% of the industry’s emissions reduction needed to reach net zero. To do so, there needs to be an increase of more than 118.6 billion gallons of SAF production by 2050. The ITA says progress is being made with more than 50 airlines having used SAF, 38 countries implementing SAF policies, and $17 billion in SAF purchase agreements this year.

Last year a group of major US airlines pledged to make 2 billion gallons of SAF available by 2030, which would require an 84% annual increase in production. Several companies recently revealed SAF advances, including Honeywell, which developed an ethanol processing technology, and Air Company making SAF from captured carbon. At the end of 2021, United said it became the first airline to operate a commercial flight using 100% SAF.

The World Economic Forum's "Target True Zero" project is looking into other ways to make aircraft that don't release any pollution, like using electric and hydrogen technologies.

ICAO also completed the first periodic review of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation at the conference. Members agreed on a new baseline for the programme, which is a baseline of 85% of carbon emissions in 2019 from 2024 and beyond. Beginning in 2030, it will use the new percentages for sectoral and individual growth factors to figure out how much carbon offsetting is needed. 

Source: Environmental Leader

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