It was a long time coming, but the United Nations has finally settled on an specific agenda to make the aviation industry carbon-free by 2050.
The move, which came despite challenges from China and Russia, was described as a “compromise” by several European countries who wanted a more ambitious target. It met with applause by members at the 193-member International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) assembly, held every three years.
China, backed by Russia and Eritrea, questioned the feasibility of the goal without more evidence, and argued developed countries must provide financial support to developing countries who are still growing their aviation markets.
An ICAO preparatory meeting in July had laid the groundwork for the non-binding target after years of talks.
Airlines last year adopted a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 in a de facto dress-rehearsal that drew reservations from Chinese carriers, reflecting the Beijing’s more cautious stance on multilateral action.
Airlines pushed for global action to avoid countries imposing different rules and fees to curb emissions.
Striving for global cohesion
“While the agreement is not perfect, it builds upon the notable progress we have made in recent decades and will prevent a patchwork of global measures,” US airline trade group Airlines for America said.
The assembly also approved changes to the baseline of ICAO’s flagship aviation emissions agreement CORSIA.
ICAO cannot impose rules but its decisions influence national policies.
Officials hope a global target set through ICAO will go beyond industry announcements to boost supplies of new sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and encourage private investment.
“Policymakers must send the demand signal,” SAF-producer Alder Fuels Chief Sustainability Officer Nancy Young said.
Countries and regions are taking steps to boost SAF use, with Europe calling for clean fuel mandates under its “Fit for 55 package” and the US aiming to produce 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030.