Aviation’s green recovery: a time to build back better

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When she opened the ICAO Aviation Green Recovery Seminar, Dr. Fang Liu, Secretary General of ICAO, noted that the post-COVID-19 recovery presents “an important moment to build back better in terms of its (aviation’s) overall sustainability…we should be able to determine a sustainable path for air transport as it reconnects the world”.

The ICAO Aviation Green Recovery Seminar – Time to Build Back Better, which was held virtually from 23 to 24 November 2020 with over 1,000 registered participants, offered a holistic view of the potential opportunities for aviation to take concrete measures to reduce its environmental footprint, as it seeks to “build back better”.

Building upon the success of the ICAO Stocktaking Seminar on aviation in-sector CO2 emissions reductions, the Seminar stressed the need for climate action by aviation and showcased inspiring solutions for aviation’s deep decarbonisation and green recovery. It also provided a forum for discussions on how aviation can support others in addressing environmental issues, as well as the policies and measures that need to be put in place within and outside aviation to support a decarbonisation path for aviation.

Key announcements, statements and calls for action were also put forward by multiple high-level speakers to accelerate aviation’s green recovery, such as those from the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General and Assistant Secretary-General for the Climate Action, Secretary General of the African Civil Aviation Commission, as well as the closing keynote address by the High-level Champion for Climate Action – COP26.

Particularly, during the “Deep Decarbonisation Pathways” session on the first day, the Seminar included a panel discussion amongst the leaders from the industry, intergovernmental organizations, investors, think tanks, and carbon market, to share their views on priority action for aviation’s decarbonisation – including sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), electrification and hydrogen – and the enabling environment to foster further action.

Throughout the discussion, panelists highlighted the importance to ensure the sector’s access to clean energy, while acknowledging that combinations of different mitigation options for aviation are necessary in appropriate timeframes for their deployment and full-scale implementation. They also highlighted that securing the necessary financial resources is of paramount importance for the development and deployment of all prominent mitigation options for aviation, and ICAO would need to support its member States in their green recovery plans with solutions to accelerate and incentivize aviation’s decarbonisation, including the timely development of certification requirements for the environment-driven innovations (e.g. electric, hybrid aircraft).

Building upon the first day’s discussion, a closing panel between States representatives on the ICAO Council highlighted the need for global and systemic solutions to address international aviation’s environmental impacts.

The representatives emphasized the need for a comprehensive and inclusive approach involving all States under the ICAO process to enhance ambition and decarbonize aviation, taking into account the different circumstances, priorities and capacities of States. In this regard, open and inclusive global dialogues were proposed and underscored to ensure a common understanding of the challenges and opportunities, for addressing the feasibility of a long-term CO2 reduction aspirational goal for the sector.

During the seminar, ICAO also announced the launch of the “ICAO Flying Forest Fire Fighting Dialogue (the I4F Dialogue)”, which is expected to facilitate the exchange of information on existing activities, technologies and arrangements related to aviation forest fire fighting worldwide, and to discuss possible areas of improvements and cooperation under the auspices of ICAO.

The government representatives also expressed their views on the feasibility of a long-term CO2 reduction aspirational goal for aviation, progress on which should be presented at the next ICAO Assembly in 2022.  Different perspectives were provided encouraging an open and transparent dialogue respecting the diversity of potential measures to reduce in-sector CO2 emissions, the need for capacity building and the recognition of the importance, and commitment from the council representatives, in leading the path towards the decarbonization of the sector.

Nigel Topping, High Level Champion for Climate Action, echoed this call for action, emphasizing on the continuous “pioneer spirit of aviation”, which must be sparked again as the sector embarks on its journey through a green recovery.

The event is available to watch on-demand at ICAO TV here.