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There’s no magic wand to decarbonise aviation – and it’s never been more urgent. But look how far we’ve come. 

By  Brussels,

Today is COP26 Transport Day in Glasgow, and we expect several governments to pledge urgent action to tackle aviation emissions as part of an International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition. This follows  new long term goals  announced just a few weeks ago by the global aviation industry to address its climate impact by committing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Building on the the commitments made at the European level last February with Destination 2050, our industry aims to reduce net CO2 emissions from intra-EU flights by 55% compared to 1990 levels. Amidst all this, it’s important to reflect on the rapid pace in which the aviation industry has moved in the past two years. At the end of 2019, just four years after the Paris Agreement — not a single airline in the world had committed to net zero.

In 24 months, and amid the worst crisis in aviation’s history, 290 airlines across the globe, representing over 80% of world traffic, have committed to net zero emissions.

Many people will point out the fact that this is too slow, or too little. Yes, tackling climate change and aligning the global aviation sector with the Paris Agreement targets to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius has never been more urgent. Yet, the scale of the shift is impressive and can hardly be disputed.

Especially because it will not be easy. There is no magic wand to decarbonise aviation everywhere in one go. The deployment of sustainable aviation fuels will need to reduce lifecycle emissions and contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, while at the same time avoide competition with food production or contribute to deforestation. Market based measures such as the Emissions Trading Scheme in the EU or in the UK will still be needed in 2050 and certainly in 2030, combined with carbon removal.

Reaching carbon neutrality in aviation by 2050 will not depend on a single technological shift, like in road transport. To create a sustainable future for all passengers, all countries and actors will need to cooperate: airlines, airports, manufacturers, passengers, energy suppliers, controllers, and public authorities. All will have to innovate and cooperate more closely.

Momentum is key. It will inspire innovative ideas, new ways of tackling problems and advance new technologies.

Airlines’ new environmental, social and governance (ESG) plans will also bring new investors to the market and respond to stakeholders’ pressure. With Destination 2050 last February, followed by the ATAG net zero commitment in October, and now the International Aviation Climate Ambition Declaration here at the COP, the right signals are being sent to the markets and to policymakers globally, notably ICAO.

A global climate policy framework for aviation to be agreed at the ICAO Assembly in 2022 could go a long way in supporting our joint long term climate objectives. Will ICAO 2022 be aviation’s COP26? Our decarbonisation journey, to be continued…