Aviation’s climate pledges contradicted by huge growth forecasts

November 26, 2021

Can the aviation sector honour its pledge of carbon neutrality by 2050 while continuing to expand?

In the next two decades, Airbus sees the need for some 39,000 new passenger and cargo aircraft. Yet the company claims that continued improvements in fleet efficiency, sustainable fuels, and propulsion technologies will make the sector’s 2050 net zero objective possible.

Progress on these measures so far is slow, which, T&E says, casts doubt on the industry’s ability to reach its mid-decade zero-emission targets. 

Recent pledges made at COP offer no reassurances. Relying on ICAO and its carbon offsetting scheme to achieve net-zero in the long-term will be just another distraction from real measures to clean up flying in the near term, warns T&E.

Relying too heavily on yet to be deployed Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and zero-emissions technology could also prove harmful, given that their large-scale deployment is many years away. 

Andrew Murphy, aviation director at T&E, said: “It will take years to ramp up SAF production and even longer to develop zero-emissions propulsion technology. Right now, flying less is the most effective way to reduce aviation emissions.”

Back in 2010 IATA, a trade association of the world’s airlines, committed to using 10% sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by 2017. Twelve years later, the sector’s emissions are still expected to triple by 2050 and the current use of SAFs in the EU is estimated to be just 0.05% of total jet fuel consumption.

Similarly, plans for zero-emissions technology offer no immediate solution to reduce aviation’s emissions, with at least 10 years needed to scale it up. T&E makes it clear that the sector does not have 10 years to find a solution. 

“Flying is a great way to connect Europe and the world. But because industry and regulators have dragged their feet in decarbonising the sector, flying less is the most effective measure to reduce emissions until new technologies are deployed at scale,” says Andrew Murphy.

Unsurprisingly, flying less is not part of the airline industry’s net zero vision. IATA estimates that air traffic will grow by 3 per cent a year between 2019 and 2050. This, despiteresearch demonstrating that growth in aviation is incompatible with a net-zero goal by the mid-decade.   

“IATA’s goal is unrealistic. Not because SAFs are unrealistic, or because of the numbers, but because nowhere in their forecasting are they accepting that aviation shouldn’t grow as much as is predicted,” concludes Murphy.

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