The aviation industry is one of the most notoriously difficult to decarbonize. By now, all would agree that there is no silver bullet but that the path to net-zero will consist of several technologies that will complement each other, each serving a different range of mission capabilities. It is also abundantly clear that if it has any chance of succeeding, it needs to be increasingly characterized by collaboration between industry stakeholders, governments, and regulatory bodies.
Calling for stability of policy
Speaking at the 78th IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit (WATS) currently taking place in Doha, Qatar, the organization’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, called for governments to make a long-term commitment to an aspirational decarbonization target for air travel at the general assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) later this year. Mr Walsh stated,
“The decarbonization of the global economy will require investment across countries and across decades, particularly in the transition away from fossil fuels. Stability of policy matters. At the IATA AGM in October 2021, IATA member airlines took the monumental decision to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. As we move from commitment to action, it is critical that the industry is supported by governments with policies that are focused on the same decarbonization goal.”
One of the main hindrances to large-scale investment in decarbonization technologies such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has been the uncertain nature of the regulatory framework landscape. Many believe that if governments get behind a target such as net-zero by 2050 through their representation in ICAO, it means they will more efficiently work to harmonize stipulations and potential ‘carrots and sticks’ in the form of subsidies and mandates.
Some believe ICAO will set such a target, if not immediately at the assembly (which is set to take place from September 27 – October 7 this year), then quite soon after. Others say it will take a lot more effort to reach a consensus, and we are in for lengthy discussions before an agreement is established. Mr Walsh belongs to the more optimistic set, stating,
“I am optimistic that governments will support the industry’s ambition with an agreement on a Long Term Aspirational Goal at the upcoming ICAO Assembly. People want to see aviation decarbonize. They expect the industry and governments to be working together. The industry’s determination to achieve net-zero by 2050 is firm. How would governments explain the failure to reach an agreement to their citizens?”
IATA says research shows that improving the environmental impact of airlines is seen as a post-pandemic priority for passengers. As many as 73% of polled people want the aviation industry to focus on reducing its climate impact. Meanwhile, two-thirds of people were reported to express concerns regarding potential taxation not being directed towards decarbonization efforts.