In 2021, at the 77th IATA Annual General Meeting, the airline industry passed a resolution to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This aligned with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement and established an industry.

Eyes are now on the 41st ICAO Triennial Assembly to follow with a commitment at the state level—the Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG).

The prospect received a boost recently when an ICAO High Level Meeting (HLM) on the feasibility of a LTAG for international aviation CO₂ emissions reductions recommended that member states should support its adoption.

“We are optimistic,” says Sebastian Mikosz, IATA’s SVP, Environment and Sustainability. “The HLM is the last step before the ICAO Assembly discussion. Its support is fundamental though we are not there yet. We still need a positive vote from ICAO member states.”

An LTAG agreement at ICAO will provide a platform for the right policies and regulations to be put in place and further help airlines to make good on their 2021 resolution. It will give a strong signal to the market——airlines adopted the 2050 target and governments are reinforcing this commitment.

The path to net zero involves a combination of sustainable aviation fuels, new propulsion technology, infrastructure and operational efficiencies, and carbon offsets/carbon capture. All require significant investment that, in turn, relies on a solid regulatory framework to provide investor confidence. The LTAG should promote policy harmonization worldwide and support airlines in achieving a net-zero future.

Political complexities

But a number of complex political arguments rear their head at state level.

An agreement on the LTAG at the 41st ICAO Assembly would represent years of hard work and a smoothing of some very muddy waters.

“There is a variety of timelines and ideas to assimilate,” explains Mikosz. “All countries have different priorities and different needs, and you cannot disconnect aviation from national policies. The obvious example is developed and developing countries.”

Though recognizing that each country has unique circumstances, an LTAG agreement would showcase a collaborative spirit. It would also support an equitable transition to the decarbonization of international aviation. This dimension is fundamental as it recognizes and balances different levels of aviation maturity while achieving a common goal.

Critically, the 2050 date was supported at the HLM and has become a worldwide standard. There will be early movers but for aviation 28 years is a tight deadline. It is approximately the lifetime of one generation of aircraft, for example, meaning the next generation of narrowbody and widebody designs must accommodate the latest technologies that make net zero possible. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is critical here as it will comprise some 65% of the industry’s drive toward net zero. The best estimates for hydrogen or hybrid electric propulsion suggest that these are at least a decade away and won’t be fully net zero.

“We have high hopes for an agreement at the 41st ICAO Assembly,” concludes Mikosz. “It’s been a huge effort by a global team of experts and that work should not be jeopardized. The industry is committed and will honor its 2050 pledge. Now, the industry—and the public—expect states to be equally responsible.

“It’s also important that the LTAG is reviewed by ICAO every three years at the Assembly. The initial LTAG agreement will set us on the right path and constant review as we move forward will ensure we stay on course.”

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