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IATA Sets An Industry Wide 2050 Net-Zero Goal – Why It Matters

Many airlines have already committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Following IATA’s annual meeting on Monday, there is an industry-wide resolution to strive for the same target. IATA can now fully lobby for governmental and regulatory support to help aviation decarbonize, a process that is predicted to cost about $2 trillion.

IATA members have supported an industry-wide resolution for net-zero emissions by 2050. Photo: Getty Images

Calling for supportive frameworks

At IATA’s annual meeting in Boston earlier today, the organization’s Director-General Willie Walsh stated that overall airline climate targets up until now had not been ambitious enough. He also said that the industry will need help bearing the cost of transitioning away from fossil-based jet fuels and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the industry.

“Achieving sustainable global connectivity cannot be accomplished on the backs of airlines alone. All parts of the aviation industry must work together within a supportive government policy framework to deliver the massive changes that are needed, including an energy transition,” Mr Walsh shared in a statement.

The former BA boss called the resolution momentous, and said the post-COVID re-connect would now happen with a clear path towards net-zero. Meanwhile, government incentives, not punitive and retrograde taxes, will create solutions, jobs, and prosperity, Mr Walsh said. Both he and the organization further acknowledged what a huge challenge the target presents.

Airbus SAF
IATA expects sustainable fuels to make up for most of the emission reductions. Photo: Airbus

Potential scenarios to meet Paris-target

The commitment to net-zero by 2050 reached at the meeting will align the industry with the target of the Paris agreement to keep global warming at 1.5°C. IATA’s new plan is to abate as much CO2 as possible by developing in-sector solutions such as sustainable aviation fuels, new aircraft technology, and more efficient operations and infrastructure. It is also putting its hopes on new propulsion systems.

The projected scale of the industry in 2050 will require the mitigation of 1.8 gigatons of carbon. A potential scenario, IATA says, is that 65% of this would be accounted for by SAFs and about 13% by alternative technologies such as electricity and hydrogen. Out-of-sector solutions, such as carbon capture and storage along with offsets, will make up for a combined 20%.

China Southern 737 MAX
There was some pushback from Chinese carriers that have set a timeline for 2060. Photo: Getty Images

Pushback and positive competition

While the net-zero resolution was backed by most carriers, according to Bloomberg Green, China Southern Airlines proposed an amendment to take varying national timelines into account. The proposal, based on an existing commitment from Chinese carriers to target net-zero by 2060, failed to gain support.

However, the suggestion does amplify concerns over how aviation in countries expecting the biggest boom will deal with balancing climate targets and growth. While IATA’s resolutions are not binding, the fact that there will be a roadmap along with sector-specific and industry-wide support matters tremendously for carriers that may otherwise have a hard time making the transition.

Meanwhile, other airlines could be set for a more positive fight. When speaking to the Financial Times after Monday’s meeting, JetBlue’s CEO and current Chairman of IATA’s board, Robin Hayes said that carriers will come to compete over their commitment towards lowering emissions. His own airline has the most ambitious target of all – aiming for net-zero by 2040.

“We all want the same thing. Are we going to compete to get there? Hell yes . . . If that gets us to achieve this goal quicker, I think that is a very good thing,” Mr Hayes told the media outlet. We are inclined to agree.

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