By Vanni Gibertini
ICAO Assembly Adopts New Net-Zero 2050 Emissions Target After Triennial Assembly
At its global headquarters in Montreal, Canada, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has just concluded its 41st Assembly, a global event that every three years gathers all Member States to decide the way forward for all global items involving commercial aviation.
For two weeks approximately 2,500 delegates and observers from 184 countries have participated in assembly meetings and working groups to set the path for the next three years as civil aviation embarks on its most important challenge so far. After years of talks and despite the skepticism of some countries such as Russia and China, the ICAO Assembly has adopted a new Long Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The same target had been agreed upon by the airlines of the International Air Transport Association during the 2021 Annual General Meeting in Boston, with some major players in the market committing to even more ambitious targets in the meantime.
“The significance of the LTAG agreement cannot be underestimated. The aviation industry’s commitment to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 requires supportive government policies. Now that governments and industry are both focused on net zero by 2050, we expect much stronger policy initiatives in key areas of decarbonization such as incentivizing the production capacity of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). And the global determination to decarbonize aviation that underpins this agreement must follow the delegates home and lead to practical policy actions enabling all states to support the industry in the rapid progress that it is determined to make,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General in a press release.
This goal is intended to combine the effect of carbon dioxide emission reduction, and the increased production and deployment of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). Those fuels are supposed to progressively replace fossil fuels and since most of them are plant-based and are cultivated on non-arable lands unsuitable for the production of food for human consumption, they produce a CO2 credit through photosynthesis during the first part of their lifecycle that goes to offset the emissions they produce when they are used as fuel for jet engines.
It is estimated that 65% of the mitigation needed to achieve the LTAG of net-zero emission by 2050 will come from Sustainable Aviation Fuels.
“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,” stressed the President of the ICAO Council Mr. Salvatore Sciacchitano.
“Countries have achieved some tremendous and very important diplomatic progress at this event, and on topics of crucial importance to the future sustainability of our planet and the air transport system which serves and connects its populations,” commented ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar.
Another important environmental development achieved by the 41st ICAO Assembly has been the reaffirmation of CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) as the only benchmark to evaluate carbon emissions on behalf of the States and, most importantly for airlines, “the only economic measure to manage the footprint of international aviation”, said IATA Director General Willie Walsh.
As some countries have decided to independently introduce environmental taxes and financial penalties for more polluting airlines, the aviation community has been trying to fight against a scenario where a patchwork of local, narrow-focused initiatives would create a complex and expensive reality that would hamper the success of a fundamental global initiative like “net-zero 2050”.
A new target has been established at 85% of 2019 levels of CO2 emissions: this is supposed to be the new sustainable threshold that the aviation industry will have to reach and maintain in order to do its part in the fight against global warming.
During the first sessions of the Assembly, for the first time in the 75-year-long history of the ICAO a country was excluded by the ICAO Council, the internal organism in charge of running the organization, through a vote by the other State Members. Russia was voted out on Oct. 1, and after an initial refusal by the Russian delegation to accept the result, the decision was confirmed and ratified by all the present countries.
The attitude towards Russia was very tense from the very beginning: during the opening session of the Assembly, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly was very critical of the behavior of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, especially with regard to the unlawful nationalization of hundreds of jets leased by Western companies to Russian airlines after economic sanctions issued by the E.U. and the U.S.A. The move that is costing billions of dollars to the leasing companies involved is a flagrant violation of the Chicago Convention that ICAO is bound to protect and enforce, and therefore the measure taken against Russia can be seen as a consequence of these violations.