IATA's goal is net zero emissions by 2050

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T1011IATA_RS_HR [Credit: Robert Silk]
IATA chairman Robin Hayes (left) and IATA director general Willie Walsh at IATA's Annual General Meeting in Boston. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

BOSTON -- The global airline industry has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. 

"For airlines, net zero is a bold initiative. But it also is a necessity," IATA director general Willie Walsh said.

The resolution, approved by IATA at its Annual General Meeting here on Monday, follows identical commitments that had already been made by trade groups representing airlines in the U.S. and Europe. 

Still, it's a major step for IATA, which previously had committed only to reducing emissions by 50% of 2005 levels by 2050, placing airlines behind the curve in comparison to commitments being made by the broader international community. 

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, IATA chairman and host of the annual general meeting, said that that IATA's board had reached the conclusion that committing to net zero emissions by 2050 "is the right thing do for our industry and humanity."

More news about sustainable aviation fuel

But he also said that if airlines didn't increase their climate commitments, such decisions would likely be forced upon them. 

"I think the reason the industry has embraced this is the cost of not doing this," Hayes said. 

How IATA envisions getting there

IATA presented a potential scenario in which 65% of aviation's carbon footprint would be ameliorated by ramped up production and use of sustainable aviation fuel. New propulsion technologies, including hydrogen, would abate another 13%. Efficiency improvements would do away with 3%. And the remaining 19% would be dealt with through carbon capture and storage and via carbon offsets.

The trade group also laid out base-case milestones to be achieved every five years until 2050.

Airlines accounted for 2.5% of global emissions prior to the pandemic, according to International Energy Agency.

Reaching net zero by 2050 will cost the airline industry an estimated $2 trillion, Walsh said. 

IATA passed the resolution despite objections from Chinese carriers, which had pushed for a goal of net zero by 2060, in line with the policy of the Chinese state. 

The resolution says that airlines will need help. It calls on air traffic control entities to eliminate inefficiencies in air traffic management; pushes for manufacturers to produce radically more efficient airframes and engine technologies; and calls for help from airports and fuel producing companies in facilitating adoption of sustainable fuel. 

In addition, the resolution calls for governments to implement incentives for production of sustainable aviation fuel.

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