Net-Zero Emissions Target Set By ICAO for 2050

With its long-term goal on net-zero emissions, ICAO puts it to member states to seek financing and secure investment in sustainable aviation fuels and other programs.

With its long-term goal on net-zero emissions, ICAO puts it to member states to seek financing and secures investment in sustainable aviation fuels and other programs.

During the 41st International Assembly last week, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted the “collective long-term aspirational goal” of net-zero carbon emissions for the aviation industry by 2050, according to an ICAO statement. The meeting brought together more than 2,500 delegates from 184 states and 57 organizations in Montreal, Canada.

The news follows an intense session in which the organization also voted to remove Russia from its council seat.

“States’ adoption of this new long term goal for decarbonized air transport, following the similar commitments from industry groups, will contribute importantly to the green innovation and implementation momentum which must be accelerated over the coming decades to ultimately achieve emissions-free powered flight,” said Salvatore Sciacchitano, president of the ICAO Council.

The goal requires financing and other forms of support from member states, and paying for the changes needed will tax a system that has recently undergone quite a bit of stress. ICAO’s Assistance, Capacity-Building and Training for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (ACT-SAF) program looks to accelerate the availability and use of SAF—and the organization plans a conference to convene on alternative fuels in 2023.

The council also recommitted to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). “Countries agreed on a new CORSIA baseline from 2024 onwards, defined as 85 percent of CO2 emissions in 2019, and on revised percentages for the sectoral and individual growth factors to be used for the calculation of offsetting requirements from 2030 onwards,” said the statement.

A GA Industry-Wide Effort

Several aviation associations joined to applaud the move, which codifies many actions already underway within the GA and commercial aviation industries.

“We commend the ICAO Assembly for its prioritization of carbon emission-reduction goals and standards,” said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). “Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is an ambitious goal which the aviation industry can reach through strong partnerships with governments and regulators to help accelerate the production, distribution and use of SAF as well as investments in research, development and deployment projects to advance technology and facilitate operational improvements.  

“General and business aviation manufacturers are committed to working with ICAO to reach our net-zero goal as outlined in the Business Aviation Commitment on Climate Change and to support the future of our industry and its societal and economic benefits,” Bunce said.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) echoed Bunce’s comment. “The business aviation community has always prioritized measures to enhance the safety and sustainability of flight,” said NBAA’s president and CEO Ed Bolen. “We welcome this significant step taken by ICAO toward further decarbonization, and we will continue to work with our industry partners toward achieving this ambitious goal.”

Business aviation accounts for less than 1 percent of transportation’s carbon emissions contribution, but has led the way in promoting the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in turbine aircraft, developing more efficient powerplants and long-range aircraft, and decarbonizing operations around the globe through the actions of corporations, flight departments, and people at all levels.

The Business Aviation Commitment on Climate Change was established to identify and guide the segment’s activities, and the Business Aviation Coalition for Sustainable Fuel outlines a roadmap for long-term carbon emissions reduction. The International Business Aviation Council’s director general Kurt Edwards mentioned its guidelines as well: “This is a significant achievement to have a collective goal across the global civil aviation industry and clear recognition by states of the important role they will play in working to achieve the long-term goal,” he said. 

“The resolution encompasses the four guiding principles that our sector shared prior to the Assembly, and we are eager to start the real work to achieve this ambitious goal, including collaborating with governments and stakeholders to decarbonize the industry," Edwards said.

With member states such as the U.S. pursuing restrictions on traditional fuels—witnessed by last week’s proposed finding on leaded avgas released by the Environmental Protection Agency—the global movement towards “greener” skies continues.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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