The UN’s net zero aviation goal is a welcome starting gun in the race to decarbonize flight
Washington, 7 October 2022—The International Council on Clean Transportation welcomes the agreement by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to establish a 2050 net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emission goal for international aviation. That agreement came today at the ICAO 41st Assembly in Montreal after almost a decade of negotiations, and reflects increased urgency to align aviation with the Paris Agreement.
Previous ICAO negotiations have focused on offsetting emissions growth above a 2020 baseline. But today’s decision will require dramatic reductions in CO2 from aircraft and fuels themselves, supported by large private and public investments. Furthermore, because ICAO itself has little implementation authority, the agreement empowers member states to take the lead in regulating emissions.
“We welcome ICAO’s goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Drew Kodjak, Executive Director of the ICCT. “It’s the starting gun in a new global race to decarbonize flight.”
“The agreement is exciting, in part because ICAO has stopped pretending to be a global climate cop,” said Dan Rutherford, Aviation Director of the ICCT. “To get to net-zero in 2050, we’ll need to peak emissions as soon as 2025, with richer countries taking the lead.”
The spotlight now shifts to the countries, which will develop national measures to cut emissions consistent with ICAO’s goal. Europe is expected to lead the charge through proposals under its “Fit for 55” package, including clean fuel mandates, carbon pricing, and ending tax exemptions for jet fuel. In the United States, the federal government aims to produce 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030, supported by subsidies of up to $1.75/gallon under the Inflation Reduction Act. Meanwhile, California is moving to require the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) under its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)
ICAO’s agreement does not assign targets to states, meaning that neither specific countries nor carriers will have a direct obligation to reduce emissions. Instead, countries will establish policies and measures to cut aviation CO2. Emerging economies with fast growing carriers, notably India and China, have argued that their carriers would require until 2060 and 2070, respectively, to achieve net zero emissions. That would imply the need for richer countries to reduce emissions even faster.
“To build room for poorer countries to grow their aviation sectors, richer countries will need to peak emissions even faster,” explains Rutherford. “So the world will be looking for quick action from wealthier governments like the EU, US, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.”
For ICCT’s analysis of what technologies will be needed for airlines to reduce emissions in-line with the Paris Agreement, see our Aviation Vision 2050 report.
Dan Rutherford, [email protected]