A United Nations (UN) body has struck a long-term deal with the aviation sector to hit net-zero emissions by 2050.
At a meeting in Montreal, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), declared its support for an “aspirational” net zero aviation goal by 2050.
The plan, criticised by environmentalists for the non-binding nature of the agreement, was accepted by the 193 ICAO member countries. Several European countries called the deal a compromise after stating their desire for a more ambitious target.
As part of the agreement, ICAO cannot impose rules directly, but its decisions can influence national policies. Officials hope a global target set through ICAO will go beyond industry announcements to boost supplies of new sustainable aviation fuel and encourage private investment.
ICAO also agreed that airlines will use the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Under the scheme, airlines would agree to a baseline amount of emissions for the year and all future emissions above the level of that period would have to be offset.
Initially, they had planned to use an average of flying emissions in 2019 and 2020 – but the onset of the Covid pandemic saw air transport decline rapidly. The threshold has now been capped at 85% of 2019 carbon emissions, meaning a higher level of carbon dioxide pollution before airlines must purchase offsets.
In a previous analysis, campaigners found that CORSIA would add just €2.40 to the price of a long-haul flight in 2030 to offset passenger’s emissions. They now say that the scheme agreed in Montreal will only cover 22% of future emissions in 2030.
The airline industry is currently estimated at contributing around 2.5% of global carbon emissions, but scientists believe it has a much higher impact on climate change than this figure suggests. This is due to the multiple impacts of flying, including the altitudes planes fly at and the effects of contrails – the water-vapour trails produced by engines.
China, backed by Russia and Eritrea, have already questioned the achievability of the goal, and called for developed countries to provide financial support to developing nations who are still growing their aviation markets.
The UK was one of the first countries to include aviation emission in their climate targets in 2021 and helped launch the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition at COP26. They’ve been amongst 56 countries pushing for an ambitious deal in Montreal.
“While the agreement is not perfect, it builds upon the notable progress we have made in recent decades and will prevent a patchwork of global measures,” said US airline trade group Airlines for America.
US-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) aviation director Dan Rutherford stated richer countries would especially need to curb their emissions since developing countries were still growing their markets. “To build room for poorer countries to grow their aviation sectors, richer countries will need to peak emissions even faster,” he said.
Still, aviation is expected to remain in the crosshairs of climate groups who see the exercise as a smokescreen. Jo Dardenne, Brussels-based group Transport and Environment aviation director, said the goal was better than no goal, but decried the lack of a plan to achieve the target. “It’s a goal without teeth,” she said.
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