Every year around the globe, April 22nd is recognized as International Mother Earth Day. It is bigger than a worldwide campaign, it is a collective movement that is meant to change the way we do business, take action, and endorse global policies to protect our planet. If our ecosystems are healthy, our planet will be as well.
In two years COVID-19 has gone from being an emergent health crisis to a fact of life that has reshaped societal behaviors in a new normal era. This change is leading to a different generation of citizens, workers, families, students, and leaders, who want to understand and fight climate change together with all its intrinsic social and environmental harm.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a drop in airline activities by 60 percent in 2020. Air travel and tourism are not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2024. While we expect that this downturn will be temporary, a recent survey by McKinsey among more than 5,500 travelers confirms that the aviation industry faces an even bigger challenge: sustainability. Indeed, more than half of those interviewed responded that they are “really worried” about climate change, and that aviation should become carbon neutral in the future. The good news is that sustainable development has always been high on the agenda of aviation stakeholders. It is a sector that is continuously innovating and reinventing itself at an unparalleled pace, by making the best use of technology to conjugate the natural need for growth and connectivity with the consumers’ demand for a paradigm shift towards sustainable development.
ICAO is ensuring the implementation of bold actions to transform and decarbonize the sector through a basket of measures that include green technologies, Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), operational improvements, and the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) – the first global market-based measure for an industrial sector.
The implementation of all these measures is fully on track and is unleashing the unprecedented potential to drive innovative technology programmes and green investments that will shape the sustainable aviation of tomorrow. This ICAO tracker tool provides a variety of information on the status and progress achieved in many of these initiatives.
Flying requires a lot of energy, so the use of clean energy sources (and less CO2) is key for the future of aviation. This is why we see a strong interest in sustainable drop-in fuels for aviation. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are a proven technology with great potential to reduce the sector’s CO2 emissions, while still contributing to the social and economic pillars of sustainable development. SAF can be produced from a wide variety of industrial processes and sources such as used cooking oil, waste, non-food crops, and even from algae and recycled plastic. They can be dropped straight into modern aircraft without the need for modifications to the engine systems. SAFs are certified towards rigorous sustainability criteria, set by ICAO, to ensure that their production does not affect food supply and water resources, and does not introduce other negative environmental and social impacts. In fact, in many instances, SAF crops rotate and complement food crop production and improve CO2 content in the soil.
There are still many challenges to increasing the use of SAF and their full deployment. For example, while the number of facilities capable of producing SAF is growing rapidly around the world, there is significant uncertainty about the share of this capacity that can be directed to aviation, compared to fuels produced for other sectors of the global economy. The novelty aspect of this industry and the price gap with conventional fuels also represent a barrier for the deployment of SAF, although recent fossil fuel prices have again awakened the economic case for diversification of aviation energy sources. In addition, SAF is a perfect example of actions that can be extended to all States to unlock their potential to contribute to the reduction of international aviation CO2 emissions while ensuring that No Country is Left Behind. We will need all countries to engage in the development and deployment of SAF and other clean energy sources for aviation, while taking into account national and local circumstances, in order to achieve ambitious aviation emissions reduction on a global scale.
The theme of Earth Day 2022, “Invest In Our Planet”, reminds us that all States and many different partners and stakeholders need to work together, creating synergies now for the global scale-up of SAF and other clean energy sources. In this regard, ICAO is maturing a new initiative to support Member States with assistance, capacity building and training in delivering concrete projects, to facilitate cooperation amongst each other with industry and financial institutions for the development and deployment of SAF and other clean energy sources. Green funding is available but comes with requisites of high environmental benefits and SAF can reduce up to 80% aviation CO2 on a life cycle basis.
ICAO is currently exploring the feasibility of a long-term global aspirational goal (LTAG) for international aviation, including the assessment of the attainability, readiness, cost impacts and necessary investments of various aviation CO2 emissions reduction measures. A set of LTAG feasibility scenarios and options, as well as means of implementation and cooperation, will be discussed by the upcoming ICAO High-level Meeting in July 2022 and by the 41st Session of the Assembly in September 2022.
An ambitious agreement on LTAG by ICAO member States can set in stone a pathway for an epochal transformation and decarbonisation of the international aviation sector that leads up to the new expectations of our global society.