Towards Future Net Zero: How is the Aviation Industry Reaching Goals?

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How airlines are moving towards net-zero emissions goals to sustainable aviation?

2020 has been the adverse year for the aviation industry as the COVID-19 crisis grounded down most airlines to limit the epidemic by restricting travelers. This has enabled airline companies to rethink and strategize their plan for structural changes with regard to demand, industry consolidation and government support, along with concerns about climate change. The discussion around sustainable aviation has already been in the pre-COVID-19 world. The aviation industry has a critical role to play in making a zero-carbon future.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry has a compact record on fuel efficiency. The agency reported that fuel burn per passenger-kilometer has plummeted by half since 1990. Now the industry has opportunities to emphasize their fuel-efficiency programs and make aviation sustainable in the new normal.

In a recent Global Symposium on the Implementation of Innovation in Aviation virtual panel conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), industry experts discussed alternative fuel sources, efficient air traffic management, and cooperative governing bodies as pathways to zero emissions aircraft.

The aviation industry generates about 2.5 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. In 2018, the UK aviation industry alone produced nearly 4 percent of the global aviation industry’s 918m tonnes CO2 emissions.


Climate Challenges in the Aviation Industry

According to ICAO, the amount of CO2 emissions the aviation industry produces is expected to grow approximately 3 percent-4 percent every year. Improved fuel efficiency can lead to some sort of mitigation for CO2 emissions from the sector.

Climate change has always been a crucial concern for airlines. In 2018, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) conducted a survey where it found that 86 percent of respondents in European aviation considered that actions to lessen the impacts of climate change on aviation may be necessary now or in the future. Conversely, 48 percent reported that they have not begun planning for adapting to the impacts of climate change.


Towards Net Zero

In October this year, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) note that the global aviation industry cannot achieve net-zero carbon emissions without a major reliance on offsets until at least 2060. However, Oneworld, an airline alliance, in September committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Members of the alliance IAG, Japan Airlines and Qantas Airways had already previously committed to the target, while Finnair has set an earlier net-zero goal of 2045. To achieve this goal, ATAG executive director Michael Gill suggested that the industry will require a complete transition away from fossil fuels.

Furthermore, the UK Government launched an environmental group, Jet Zero Council, which is a coalition of Ministers, businesses, trade bodies and environmental groups who will collaboratively work to align the aviation sector with the 2050 net-zero target.