The aviation industry’s new global agreement, paving the way to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, is an important step on the road to sustainable air transport.
At last week’s International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly, ICAO Member States adopted a global “ambitious long-term goal” of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. he agreement marks a milestone on the path to sustainable air transport and now provides an international policy framework to which the global aviation community must adhere.
While many countries, including the UK and EU, had set a net zero target for aviation emissions by 2050, a common international framework has so far been a major missing piece of the puzzle. There is now considerably less risk of global regulatory distortions that could slow progress.
Additionally, the goal aligns international aviation with the Paris Agreement and follows a commitment made by the industry itself last year. All countries are now working towards the same goal and are now committed to the same timeframe to achieve it. In short, with this agreement now in place, an important signal has been sent to the entire aviation ecosystem and the message is clear: progress towards net zero must accelerate.
Setting a goal is one thing. Making it a reality is the starting point for hard work, and a strong implementation roadmap – similar to the UK Jet Zero Strategy – is necessary to ensure that all the innovations and solutions needed to decarbonise air transport can be facilitated and implemented in a timely manner.
The reality is that by the time of the next ICAO Assembly, the ambitious nature of the ambitious long-term goal agreed last week must be transformed into a firm objective with a clear action plan. This ultimately means that governments must work with industry to implement an effective global policy framework capable of attracting the financial resources needed to put aviation on an irreversible course to reach net zero. here 2050.
At Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, we were delighted to see the role of technological innovation recognized by ICAO as essential to achieving net zero by 2050. Success will depend on the combined effects of a number of reduction measures emissions, including accelerated adoption of new aviation technologies such as zero-emission aircraft, streamlined flight operations, and increased production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).
In recent years, more efficient aircraft and SAFs have been at the center of decarbonization efforts; but achieving net zero aviation through SAF would depend on reductions outside the sector, such as carbon offsets and greenhouse gas removals, approaches that are complex and uncertain.
Recall that we will see substantial reductions in the production costs of gaseous and liquid hydrogen, as the renewable energy on which it depends becomes cheaper and production volumes increase rapidly. While the Institute of Aerospace Technology recently FlyZero study pointed out, liquid hydrogen is expected to be the cheapest fuel capable of decarbonizing aviation by the mid-2030s and could be cheaper than kerosene by 2050. Power to Liquid SAF is expected to see cost reductions similar, as it also uses hydrogen gases as feedstock, although it is expected to be consistently more expensive than liquid hydrogen.
True zero-emissions flight, enabled by hydrogen propulsion, offers a less complex path to decarbonization, and the focus on its enormous potential should be pursued at the ICAO global level.
A tremendous amount of work has been done to agree on this objective, and we must pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of all those who participated in the negotiation of this agreement. As attention now turns to delivery, the industry is delighted to support the UK government – and indeed governments around the world – in providing the technical advice needed to ensure there is no slowdown. the pace needed to decarbonize air travel.
Jenny Kavanagh is Chief Strategy Officer at Cranfield Aerospace Solutions.
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