Welcome to the first of our monthly newsletters rounding up some of the key developments in aviation and environment as the industry pushes towards its target of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
To remind you, at the IATA AGM in Boston, on October 4th, airlines agreed a resolution calling for net-zero CO2 emissions. While we would prefer to be able to target absolute zero emissions, this is not possible because by 2050 zero emissions planes will only be available on short-haul routes.
For the vast majority of flights, emissions will have to be cut using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and through operational efficiencies. Finally, any remaining emissions will be offset.
In these newsletters we will draw attention to the progress on these pathways to net zero, as well as focusing on the work of some of the people who are making change happen today. This month, we’ll start with a summary of the contributions each pathway will make towards net zero, and we’re asking some questions of Haldane Dodd, the Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group.
Senior Vice President, Environment and Sustainability, IATA
Sustainable aviation fuel
SAFs are the crucial tool for aviation to reach net-zero. We think we will need around 450 billion litres of SAF by 2050 to mitigate about 65% of our emissions. This factsheet has all the key information on SAF, and here is an interview with our SAF expert.
Alternative forms of propulsion – namely hydrogen and electric power – are the most exciting options to eliminate emissions. We don’t expect to see a commercial airliner until at least 2035, but by 2050 they could be eliminating 13% of our emissions. In the meantime, there are many technological efficiencies that can already be made to cut emissions from conventional aircraft. This factsheet explains more
Operational and infrastructure efficiencies
The inefficiencies in air traffic control offer significant scope for short-term emissions savings. In Europe alone, savings of 6-10% are possible. This requires government action, which continues to be blocked by political games. See this factsheet for more.
Offsetting and carbon capture
While the industry is determined to reduce emissions as much as possible from in-sector solutions, offsetting and eventually carbon capture will play a role (see factsheet). The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is a key initiative for global management of aviation CO2, helping the industry to achieve carbon-neutral growth compared to a 2019 baseline. In this interview our expert explains the importance of CORSIA.
Executive Director, Air Transport Action Group.
ATAG, the Air Transport Action Group, is a membership association that spans the entire aviation industry, with the purpose of bringing the sector together to align policies and coordinate work on sustainability issues. It also has a role promoting the social and economic benefits of aviation to the world.
What is ATAG’s role in the collective industry effort to reach net-zero CO2?
To accelerate action towards decarbonization, an overarching goal is needed – ATAG worked with our membership to bring the entire sector in-line for a long-term climate goal in 2009 and then again in 2021 around net-zero. Once you have the entire industry working towards the same aim, we also need the policy environment and our supply chain on board too – this is where a global agreement at ICAO next year on a long-term climate goal is vital.
What is the biggest challenge facing the industry in getting to net-zero by 2050?
The biggest challenges are the perennial: time and money! We have effectively 28 years to transform our energy system away from something that has served us well for nearly a century. This will cost – but the cost of climate inaction is even higher so it is imperative that we get this done. Our analysis shows that an almost complete transition away from fossil fuels in aviation is possible by the mid-century. For sustainable aviation fuel, this could mean up to 7,000 small production facilities at a cost of $1.45 trillion over 30 years. This sounds daunting, but annualized it is around 6% of typical oil and gas capital expenditure. Additionally, it will bring new energy industry opportunities to countries across the world and sustain up to 14 million jobs. So time is a challenge, but with the right will and the urgency of the climate fight, I am confident that it can be achieved – with the right support from governments and the energy sector.
What progress will have been made by 2025?
By 2025 we hope we will have a global government agreement to work with industry on achieving that long-term goal. That is key to setting the policy frameworks around the world towards decarbonization of air transport. We cannot just think about progress being made at a European or North American level – this has to be a global program of action. More airlines will have committed to voluntary agreements for SAF and we will have a much better picture of how radical solutions such as hydrogen and electric flight may play their role in the decarbonization strategy. This is going to be an exciting period as we usher in the third era of aviation.
What surprising fact should everyone be aware of regarding aviation and environment?
The dollar amount committed by airlines to sustainable aviation fuel offtakes since March 2020 is the same as in the entire previous decade: around $7 billion. So, despite being in the midst of the worst crisis in aviation history, commitment to sustainability and climate action has not abated – in fact it has accelerated. We need those efforts to continue to grow, but I am ever more confident in our ability to meet this challenge.
ATCNews : Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome is the publisher of ATCNews, Eastern Africa’s leading aviation, tourism and conservation news blog of its kind. Wolfgang has over 45 years of experience in the tourism, aviation and conservation fields in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, covering all aspects of safari operations, hotel operations and air operations. Since 1992 he resides in Uganda, previously living for 17 years in Kenya.