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Sustainable Aviation: Utopia or Reality?

The ICAO Agreement for Zero Emission Aviation Sounds Encouraging, but is it Down to Earth enough?.

airplane flying

Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | David Rivadeneira Soto

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Leer en español: Aviación sostenible ¿utopía o realidad?

Various data show aviation as the second most polluting mode of transport. For this reason, the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO (ICAO) proposes, through an agreement, to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050. It thus seeks to create sustainable aviation. An ambitious goal that, apparently, sounds utopian, but from the environmental point of view it is necessary. For example, one of those statistics on pollution from the airline industry is from the European Commission and places it as the second source of greenhouse gas production in the transport sector, with continuous growth, with 13.9% of emissions, preceded by land transportation.

Regarding this increase, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has indicated that since 1990 travelers and commercial mobility through aeronautical means have tripled, with the consequent increase, more than double, of exhaust gases. greenhouse effect produced by aircraft burning fuel, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). There are other numbers that allow aviation to be identified as a significant contributor to global warming. The same ICAO, an agency attached to the UN, according to its calculations, indicates that a passenger who flies between New York and London in economy class can produce 0.67 tons of CO₂, almost equivalent to what a citizen of Ghana produces in an entire year.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 2018 calculated that, by the year 2037, the annual number of passengers would double the current numbers, going to a total of 8,200 million, with the consequent increase in carbon emissions, which according to the same entity at present are about 2% of what is produced worldwide. There is more data that serves to demonstrate that this sector has a significant share as one of the most polluting and with an impact on global warming, but so far the data presented serves to show the urgency and need for self-regulation and to generate substantial changes. to reduce their impact on the environment.

We suggest you read: Infographic: 13 Million People Already Live From Sustainable and Renewable Energy

The agreement, discussed at the end of July, emerged within the framework of the meeting for the high-level talks on the environment at the ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada, and was finalized at its General Assembly 4, in early October. After two weeks of deliberations between ministers, high-level officials and more than 2,500 delegations from 193 countries, the adoption of a collective long-term goal was reached: zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

While it sounds ambitious to utter the words that set the goal of the agreement, it is useful to highlight the non-binding aspect of it. What the participating States of the summit approved is a collective global aspirational goal (LTAG). This indicates that it is not strictly mandatory and it is freely available to the members to abide by it or to what extent to comply with it. That is the main weakness pointed out by environmental organizations in relation to the announcement of what was agreed through ICAO.

The NGO Transport and Environment, in the voice of Jo Dardenne, stated: “We must not be fooled by the results of this assembly. The only way we're going to solve the problem is to stop burning kerosene. The way to stop burning kerosene is by giving it an effective price and investing in alternative solutions”.

Initiatives underway

Making it feasible to fulfill the fundamental purpose of the agreement goes through various measures that will affect the materialization of this reduction to zero by 2050. The advance in the use of more sustainable fuels for aviation (SAF) and greater research in this field will be key. IATA estimates that 65% of the mitigation to drive to zero emissions comes from this factor. Likewise, operational and design measures that make the relationship between fuel consumption, the number of passengers and the distance traveled more efficient for the benefit of a reduction in the emissions generated per trip are necessary for sustainable aviation.

During the same assembly, the first periodic review of the state of progress of the Carbon Compensation and Reduction Plan for International Aviation (CORSIA) was carried out, in which they define a new starting point from 2024 and a new review of the percentages of individual and sectoral growth to establish compensation requirements in 2030.

The balance that can be derived from the agreement is bittersweet for some, such as environmentalists, who expected greater commitment and clear planning, but, as Jo Dardenne himself put it, "some objective is better than none." The opposite is the optimism shown by Salvatore Sciacchitano, President of the ICAO Council, commenting "today's decision sends a fundamental message about ICAO's commitment to contribute to the fight against climate change through the decarbonization of civil aviation" . On the other hand, the EEA expert in air pollution, Anke Lükewille, explains that "measures such as improving fuel efficiency through the introduction of lighter materials or other technical options will not be enough to meet the European objectives in terms of emission and sustainability”. In other words, more effort would be needed to obtain more significant results.