ICAO’s Council is briefed on the opportunities and challenges of decarbonizing aviation


The ICAO Council is a permanent body that is composed of 36 Member States that are elected by the Assembly for a three-year term. It is a governing body that serves as a global forum for international civil aviation and provides direction on the organization’s work. ICAO develops policies and Standards, undertakes compliance audits, performs studies and analyses, provides assistance and builds aviation capacity through many other activities with the cooperation of its Member States and stakeholders.

On March 28th, ICAO Council representatives participated in a briefing on the role of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The briefing by global development banks and the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), addressed the challenges and opportunities of decarbonizing international civil aviation.

Presenting at the session were representatives of several international financing institutions, in addition to the ATAG. The finance stakeholders in attendance included representatives from the African Development Bank, the Emirates Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank.

The Council briefing and discussions focused on the actions and outcomes that are needed now to achieve the joint public and private sector target of carbon neutral or ‘NetZero’ international air transport by 2050. Key takeaways included the following:

  • The transition towards lower carbon and sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) will be fundamental to achieving NetZero2050.
  • Both private and public sector financing will be critical to aviation’s successful SAF transition in all world regions.
  • Blended public-private financing models can serve as an important catalyst for early-stage investment into the SAF production facilities and this is now urgently needed.
  • A more detailed and harmonised classification of SAF financing types and tools should be developed to support international financing institutions in taking the next steps.
  • The predictability of SAF offtake agreements*, and the reliability of the international regulatory landscape, are essential to SAF project investor confidence given the global nature of the sector and its NetZero 2050 challenge. Offtake agreements are formalized when a buyer agrees to purchase or sell portions of a producer’s upcoming goods. They are generally negotiated before the construction of a factory or other type of production facility, to establish a reliable market for its products.

Both ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano and Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar acknowledged the great potential inherent in the closer collaboration being established between ICAO and international financing institutions. They also underscored that ICAO and the governments who cooperate through it have a critical role to play in encouraging and accelerating the ramp-up of global SAF production capacities and that the urgently needed development of harmonized international SAF policy frameworks would play a key part in establishing the level and dependable playing field investors now needed.

The March 2023 Council briefing was conducted during the ICAO Governing Body’s current 228th session, with the main points and perspectives framed in the context of governments’ recent collective adoption of a NetZero Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) for international air operations at ICAO’s 41st Assembly last October.

The Assembly agreement was recognized by states as supporting international aviation’s continuing efforts to support of the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal, and the analyses prepared by the ICAO Secretariat to help countries reach their NetZero decision had stressed the need for significant near-term investments in cleaner air transport technologies, operations, and energy sources. Most clearly emphasized, however, was that the majority of the projected near-term emissions reductions would need to rely heavily on the availability of significant new amounts of SAF in all world regions.

ICAO Council members welcomed the opportunity to exchange views with the finance and industry stakeholders, and further ICAO discussions on SAF and NetZero financing are expected to take place over the coming months in the lead-up work for the Third Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3) that will take place in November. The CAAF/3 event will provide an important opportunity to generate an even stronger international consensus toward the decarbonization of aviation, building on the success of related capacity-building efforts ICAO has been undertaking through its global and ongoing ACT-SAF initiative.