In keeping with the climate change goals of the Paris Agreement, global aviation industry players, including Airports Council International (ACI) World and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have joined the pledge to meet the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The initiative seeks to avoid global warming rising by 1.5°C points.

According to IATA, the goal signifies a “huge challenge” for the aviation industry. The association believes that the industry must “progressively reduce its emissions while accommodating the growing demand of a world that is eager to fly”. It is believed that a minimum reduction of 1.8 gigatons of carbon will be required if the industry intends to meet the needs of the more than 10 billion air flyers in 2050. Besides, the net-zero commitment suggests that between now and 2050, a collective total of 21.2 gigatons of carbon would have been abated.

Willie Walsh, the IATA director-general explained that about 65% of the 1.8 gigatons of carbon estimated to be generated by the aviation industry in 2050 could be reduced by using SAFs, while 13% can be halted through the use of the latest propulsion technologies like hydrogen. An additional 3% can be stopped through improvements in efficiency, 8% through offsets, and 11% via carbon capture.

“The actual split, and the trajectory to get there, will depend on what solutions are the most cost-effective at any particular time,” Walsh stated. “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.”

Continuing, Walsh said: “Governments must be active partners in achieving net zero by 2050. As with all other successful energy transitions, government policies have set the course and blazed a trail towards success. The costs and investment risks 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.”

To support the drive towards attaining net-zero, the industry will have to depend on the CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) arm of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). According to IATA, this will ensure that international emissions are kept at the 2019 levels within the short to medium term.

ACI World suggests that one of the viable ways of achieving the goal is through a blend of initiatives, such as support for innovative aircraft technologies like electric and hydrocarbon, in addition to enhancements in operational proficiency and infrastructure. According to the council, the rapid advancement in Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) is also expected to play a huge role in abating the effect of aviation, with carbon removal methods capturing any remaining emissions.

In his comments, ACI World’s director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira remarked: “The road ahead will be challenging but aviation is no stranger to challenges. This historic declaration shows the determination of the sector to work together to take this important climate action. It is now imperative that governments support these efforts to make this vital sector sustainable. This makes it all the more urgent that member states of the ICAO support the adoption of a long-term climate goal at the 41st ICAO Assembly in 2022.”

Several airlines have given assurances of their readiness to support the net-zero emissions target by 2050. And with corporate travellers forming the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance to finance SAFs, the World Travel and Tourism Council has just published a roadmap to support the global tourism industry in the achievement of its sustainability targets.