Airline industry needs to at least aim for net-zero by 2050 – rather than its current even weaker targets

In 2019 the ICAO confirmed its two global aspirational goals for the international aviation sector of 2% annual fuel efficiency improvement through to 2050, and “carbon neutral growth” from 2020 onwards. The IATA has its own target of aiming for “an average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020; a cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth); and a reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.”  Now there is greater pressure on the aviation sector do actually do something to reduce its carbon emissions.  In 2020, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) produced its Waypoint 2050 analysis, hoping aviation “should be in a position to meet net-zero emissions at a global level by 2060 or 2065”. But now ATAG’s director said it would soon publish an updated version of the Waypoint 2050 report to be more ambitious. The number of airlines that have made a commitment to aim for net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 is now 61. There is huge dependence on “sustainable aviation fuels” (which only exist in tiny amounts now, and will be expensive) providing a route to net-zero. The amounts needed by aviation in coming decades might be x8,000 as much as exist now, with production facilities costing billions of $.



Airline industry ups climate ambitions as clock ticks on ICAO goal

By Kerry Reals, (Runway Girl Network)


As pressure mounts on ICAO to agree a long-term climate goal for aviation at its 41st assembly next year, the industry appears poised to increase the ambition of its own 2050 goal.

Twelve years have passed since IATA unveiled its plan to halve the air transport sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, compared with 2005 levels.

Last year, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) published its Waypoint 2050 analysis, detailing how the industry aimed to meet that target. At the time, the group said that aviation “should be in a position to meet net-zero emissions at a global level by 2060 or 2065”.

During ATAG’s virtual Global Sustainable Aviation Forum on September 28, however, the group’s acting executive director, Haldane Dodd, said it would soon publish an updated version of the Waypoint 2050 report to reflect the increased momentum toward climate action during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prior to the crisis, he notes, 11 airlines had individually committed to net-zero CO2 emissions targets by 2050 or sooner — a number that has since risen to 61.

“With these shifts in mind, we’ve been working to update the important Waypoint 2050 analysis we first published last year,” says Dodd. “Given the public and business interest in net-zero 2050, today we’ll give you a preview of an update to that analysis, showing the ways in which the industry could potentially look at a net-zero pathway.”

Under close examination are sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), of which 445 million tonnes will be needed by 2050 to meet the industry’s requirements — a massive increase over the trickle of SAFs in commercial use today.

Volumes must increase “8,000-fold from last year’s level”, according to Kata Cserep, managing director of aviation at ICF. This would require the construction of up to 7,000 production facilities — the cost of which could potentially be covered by oil and gas companies.

“If the global energy industry used about 6% of their annual capital expenditure, it would cover the investment needed to replace almost all of our liquid fuel needs with sustainable aviation fuel,” says Dodd.

Other key pathways include electric, although this is likely to be limited to smaller aircraft types, and hydrogen, which has its own challenges to overcome on distribution and on sustainable production.

Chart showing an overview of where low- and zero-carbon energy could be deployed in commercial aviation. It demonstrates that hydrogen will not play a major role in reducing aviation emissions before 2050, with most contributions coming from sustainable aviation fuel

FT graphic illustrating how the industry hopes it might be able to claim to be carbon “net zero” by 2050 – largely using novel, low carbon fuels.

ATAG’s updated analysis will provide a “data-driven basis for the technical challenges ahead of us”, says Dodd. While the transition is “not going to be easy”, he adds, “there are some clear pathways to get to both our decade-old industry goal, and also beyond that to net zero”.

Panellists at the forum agreed that collaboration across all stakeholders and the right governmental policies would be essential to decarbonizing aviation. But the industry seems to recognize that however ambitious its targets sounded in 2009, they no longer cut the mustard.

Aviation emissions are forecast to rise by 220-290 per cent between 2015 and 2050

FT graphic showing possible future aviation CO2 emissions to 2050  (and there are other even higher estimates, if aviation is allowed to expand and low carbon fuels etc are not forthcoming)

“I think it’s absolutely critical that our industry aligns our goals and our ambition to the latest scientific evidence, which says that we have to move at a faster pace,” says IATA director general Willie Walsh.

The pressure is also on ICAO to agree a long-term climate goal for the global aviation sector at its 41st assembly in September 2022.

“ICAO faces an enormous challenge, and its credibility is really on the line,” says Annie Petsonk, deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs at the US Department of Transportation.

It is clear, however, that there are internal wrangles among ICAO member states, particularly as countries work to get their economies up and running after the pandemic.

“There are different points of view within the Council,” says Egypt’s ICAO Council representative, Angie Ahmed Abdallah Mostafa Elyazzy. While it is “very critical for ICAO to move quickly” on a long-term climate target, she argues that the goal “shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all”.

As ICAO member states continue their discussions and the aviation industry evaluates which pathways might help it fly out of its climate crisis, the clock is ticking on meeting the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

“We think that anything short of net zero doesn’t fit into that overall trajectory, and that’s what our expectation would be,” says Aviation Environment Federation director Tim Johnson. “Whatever the agreement is at ICAO next year, it has to have that level of ambition. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.”


See also


See earlier:


Three targets and four pillars

IATA recognizes the need to address the global challenge of climate change and adopted a set of ambitious targets to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport:

  • An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020
  • A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth)
  • reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels

A multi-faceted approach: the four-pillar strategy

IATA is determined to be part of the solution but insists that, in order to achieve these targets, a strong commitment is required from all stakeholders working together through the four pillars of the aviation industry strategy:

  • Improved technology, including the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels
  • More efficient aircraft operations
  • Infrastructure improvements, including modernized air traffic management systems
  • A single global market-based measure, to fill the remaining emissions gap



The ICAO Assembly at its 40th Session in 2019 adopted Resolution A40-18: Consolidated statement of continuing ICAO policies and practices related to environmental protection — Climate change. It reiterated the two global aspirational goals for the international aviation sector of 2% annual fuel efficiency improvement through 2050 and carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards, as established at the 37th Assembly in 2010.

To achieve the global aspirational goals and to promote sustainable growth of international aviation, ICAO is pursuing a basket of measures including aircraft technology improvements, operational improvements, sustainable aviation fuels, and market-based measures (CORSIA).


Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders  [aviation industry body]

Waypoint 2050

This says:

“The gap between CO2 emissions after technology and operations and infrastructure improvements and net-zero is fulfilled mainly with the use of sustainable aviation fuels: 90% of fuel is replaced with SAF with a 100% emissions reduction factor by 2050 (around 380 Mt of SAF).

Under this scenario, offsets (mainly in the form of carbon removals) will need to be used to make up any remaining shortfall in emissions above the goal.”

[ ie. total flights of fancy !]


The UK Government’s Jet Zero consultation

“This consultation sets out our plans to take this even further through a strategy to deliver net zero aviation by 2050, or ‘Jet Zero’ as we call it.”

Consultation ended 8th September 2021