Aviation sector supports new net-zero transition strategy
The world’s major airlines, airports and suppliers have backed a new report outlining how the aviation sector can increase usage of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), improve engine efficiency and invest in novel low-carbon technologies to help reach net-zero by 2050.
A new report delivered by the Mission Possible Partnership (MPP) and the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition (CST) has outlined a transition strategy for the aviation sector to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The report is backed by major companies including Airbus, American Airlines, easyJet and Shell.
The report, which is backed by 27 airlines in 19 countries, 1,950 airports in 185 countries, 10 aircraft producers and suppliers, 21 fuel producers & upstream energy providers, notes the steps the aviation sector can take to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, including short-terms targets.
According to the report, reaching net-zero will require a “doubling of historical fuel efficiency gains of aircraft” that will support the development of more innovative – yet contested – solutions.
The report calls for the market entry of novel propulsion aircraft such as hydrogen or electric by the mid-2030s.
Additionally, the sector will need to invest in SAFs, which have been met with criticism by some green groups who claim that a lot of feedstocks for the fuel can’t be considered sustainable. Earlier this week the European Parliament voted to clarify what constitutes as SAFs, with bans imposed on some biofuel feedstocks.
According to the report, 10–15% of the final jet fuel demand needs to come from SAFs by 2030 in order to allow a scaling up of the technology to reach net-zero by 2050. This, the report states, requires a ramp-up of the current SAF project pipeline by a factor of 5–6.
While fuel costs for the sector are expected to increase as a result of the net-zero transition, the report states that the cost of flying could remain stable due to increased efficiency gains.
The average annual investments are estimated at $175bn annually up to 2050, at which point the aviation sector could account for 10% of global renewable electricity demand and up to 30% of hydrogen demand. The sector would likely need to capture around 600–850 Mt CO2 from the atmosphere are part of offsetting and balancing mechanisms.
The Mission Possible Partnership’s chief executive Matt Rogers said: “MPP is mapping critical strategies on how to turn the paper goals of annual climate summits into action. An unmitigated aviation sector would be responsible for 22% of emissions by 2050. This transition strategy outlines plans and projects that are high on the agenda of ambitious companies, including the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how to build 300 Sustainable Aviation Fuel plants by 2030.”
The aviation industry accounts for around 3% of global emissions and could rise to 22% by 2050 if left unmitigated.
In 2020, members of the UK Sustainable Aviation pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the sector by 2050, to assist with the UK’s overall net-zero strategy.
A roadmap to accompany the launch suggests the sector believes it can accommodate a 70% increase in passengers by 2050, while reducing carbon emissions from more than 30 million tonnes a year to net-zero. New aircraft and engine technology and smarter flight operations have been heralded as some of the solutions to support the transition.
The use of “robust carbon offsets and investment in innovative carbon removal solutions” will be vital to address residual UK aviation emissions by 2050, the report notes.
Globally, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has supported a resolution calling for the global sector to reach net-zero by 2050, unveiling plans that rely on SAFs for 65% of emissions cuts.
Notably absent from IATA’s plans are any scenarios in which global passenger numbers decline.
Commenting on the new pathway report, Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: “We believe that novel propulsion technologies, including hydrogen, can offer the most sustainable solution for a short haul airline like easyJet.
“The adoption of these technologies will help reduce the climate impact of our operations while preserving the immense economic and social benefits that aviation brings to the world. We therefore support the Mission Possible Partnership Aviation Transition Strategy.”