Global airlines have pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, an ambitious challenge for the heavily polluting industry as it begins to recover from the crisis caused by Covid-19.
The target was endorsed by members of the International Air Transport Association on Monday, and came as the industry faced increasing pressure to take further steps to reduce emissions.
Aviation, which accounts for around 2% of global emissions, is one of the hardest industries to decarbonize, and Iata admitted the target posed a significant challenge.
“Decarbonizing the airline industry is a real challenge because we don’t have a clear, short-term solution,” said Iata CEO Willie Walsh. “But we believe very strongly. . . there is a credible path to net zero.
The industry’s roadmap relies heavily on sustainable aviation fuels, which are significantly less polluting than traditional kerosene, but currently very scarce.
The plan also includes new future and unproven technologies, including electric and hydrogen aircraft. Any remaining emissions could be absorbed through carbon capture or offsetting, Iata said.
But in a sign of concern that governments could take action, including environmental taxes if airlines don’t decarbonize faster, Walsh urged countries to help airlines reach net zero, rather than punishing them. for stealing.
“Limiting thefts with retrograde and punitive taxes would stifle investment and could limit thefts to the rich. And we have never seen an environmental tax actually fund carbon reduction activities, ”said the former boss of British Airways.
He added that Boeing and Airbus “are not doing enough” to develop new technologies to reduce emissions, and that any carrier that does not commit to reducing its carbon footprint “will be measured by consumers”.
Robin Hayes, managing director of US carrier JetBlue, said that, unlike safety, airlines will compete on their commitment to reduce pollution levels.
“We all want the same thing,” he said. “Are we going to compete to get there?” Damn, yes. . . If this allows us to achieve this goal faster, I think that’s a very good thing.
The net zero target met with opposition from Chinese airlines, which wanted to delay engagement until 2060, reflecting the difficulty in persuading developing countries to agree to climate targets that could hamper an increase. expected flight demand in the coming decades.
But Walsh said European airlines, in particular, were already facing pressure to accelerate to net zero before 2050 and opposed China’s proposal.
“Moving it to 2060 would not be a position they would accept,” he added.
Transport & Environment, a climate lobby group, said airlines should drop offsetting programs and focus on mandatory targets for clean fuels and face fuel and carbon taxes.
The climate targets come as the industry braces for a painful recovery from the pandemic in the coming years.
On Monday, Iata predicts that global airlines will lose an additional $ 11.6 billion next year, compared to $ 52 billion expected in 2021 and $ 137.7 billion in 2020.
Driven by a large domestic market, the American industry is the only region that should return to profit in 2022.
“We are well past the deepest point of the crisis. Although serious problems remain, the road to recovery is looming, ”said Walsh.