At the seventy-seventh annual general meeting of their global representative body on Monday, the International Air Transport Association (Iata), the world’s airlines resolved that they would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This would be in alignment with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to not more than 1.5 °C. Iata’s membership totals 290 airlines, representing 82% of global air traffic.
“The world’s airlines have taken a momentous decision to ensure that flying is sustainable,” highlighted Iata director-general Willie Walsh. “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.”
It would be a “huge challenge”, noted the association. Airlines would simultaneously be cutting their emissions while flying more and more people, as air travel demand grew and grew. In 2050, ten-billion people were expected to fly. That would require the abatement of 1.8 gigatons of carbon. Between now and then, the total amount of carbon that would have to be abated would be 21.2 gigatons.
“A potential scenario is that 65% of this will be abated through sustainable aviation fuels [SAF],” he explained. “We would expect new propulsion technology, such as hydrogen, to take care of another 13%. 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.”
The achievement of net-zero needed the complete commitment of governments, regulators, service providers and the entire aerospace industry, and not just that of the airlines. Governments and air navigation service providers had to remove inefficiencies in air traffic management and airspace infrastructure. Fuel companies had to bring SAFs into large-scale production at competitive prices, and airport companies had to provide the infrastructure to allow SAFs to be supplied to the aircraft. And airframe and aeroengine manufacturers had to design and build far more efficient aircraft and engines.
“Governments must be active partners in achieving net-zero by 2050,” affirmed Walsh. “As with all other successful energy transitions, government policies have set the course and blazed a trail towards success. The costs and investment 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 environmental tax actually fund carbon-reducing activities. Incentives are the proven way forward. They solve the problem, create jobs and grow prosperity.”