Net-zero by 2050: International agreement reached by aviation sector

Aviation accounts for around 3% of global annual emissions, which are hard to abate

The agreement on the new so-called ‘long-term aspirational goal’ was reached in Montreal late last week at a meeting of members of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The goal applies to airport operations, domestic and international flights – despite nations including Russia and China having pushed for more lenient targets, particularly for international flights. Russia has not set a national net-zero target and China’s has a 2060 deadline.

As the ICAO is not a regulator, it has no legal powers to hold nations or businesses to account for failing to meet the commitments. It is up to nations to interpret how they, specifically, will deliver against its international commitments.

The ICAO has stated that all national aviation sectors will need to use offsetting to reach the net-zero goal. As well as the agreement of the 2050 net-zero emissions, the meeting saw the completion of a review of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The ICAO was initially set to use the 2019-2020 financial year as the baseline for capping the sector’s emissions, but will now use the 2019 calendar year, as the Covid-19 pandemic impacted flights in 2020. The sector will need to cap its net emissions at 85% of 2019 levels from 2024 to 2030. A new cap will then be negotiated ahead of 2030.

The ICAO’s secretary-general Juan Carlos Salazar said the meeting saw some “tremendous and very important diplomatic progress”.

UK Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the goal being agreed was “a historic milestone, not just for the future of flying, but for the wider international commitment to achieve net-zero”.

Some environmental groups have disagreed, expressing disappointment that the agreement leaves room for over-reliance on offsetting rather than actually reducing absolute emissions from the sector.  Transport & Environment has called the goal “empty” and “disappointing”.

The group’s aviation director Jo Dardenne said: “ Let’s not pretend that a non-binding goal will get aviation down to zero. If countries and industry are serious about this aspirational goal, they should stop bullying the EU out of its plans to finally price emissions from departing flights. The EU should  not wait for more empty promises to move ahead with its Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) mandate and pricing of departing flights.”

Transport & Environment has long lobbied for an increased price on kerosene for governments to cap airport and airline expansion where necessary to meet climate goals without over-offsetting.

Comments (1)

  1. Kim Warren says:

    Is this the biggest corporate lie yet about Net Zero? There is no such thing as “sustainable aviation fuel” – see EDIE – find some decent authoritative research on this.

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