IATA: ICAO Has No Time To Lose In Approving Net Zero Emission Targets

generic plane in clouds
Credit: Oli Kellett / Getty Images

IATA is continuing its push for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to endorse an aspirational goal of net zero emissions by 2050. 

The association’s Director General Willie Walsh is warning that “anything shy of that will be viewed as a failure.”

Walsh made those comments as the 41st ICAO Assembly got underway on Sept. 27. The organization is contemplating endorsing a Long Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) of net zero by 2050—a target established by IATA in late 2021. 

Asked to rate his level of optimism regarding a positive outcome on a scale of zero to five, Walsh settled on a four. “While some of these targets are ambitious, and the expectation is high, I think we have to be realistic that in the current environment anything short of ICAO agreeing to that long-term aspirational goal of net zero 2050 will be a huge disappointment,” Walsh said. 

He believes ICAO’s approval of the LTAG would help ensure the aviation industry has the right framework in place for reaching its climate ambitions. 

Walsh said it would be a failure if the ICAO states do not support the LTAG—as the organization’s assembly only occurs every three years. “I don’t think we have three years to wait for governments to align around a common goal for 2050,” he said. But he acknowledged difficult discussions will be taking place during the meeting as ICAO’s 193 member states attempt to reach a common agreement. 

China’s government has established a goal of net zero by 2060. “I think it’s important to say that the industry and China have equal ambition ... [Chinese operators] are determined to achieve net zero,” Walsh said. He said their time frame for doing so “has been slightly different—to align with the Chinese government.” 

One looming question that remains is can ICAO move forward in approving if China opposes the LTAG? Walsh believes an agreement can be forged. “The important issue we’re focused on here is international aviation,” he said. Walsh said that while the Chinese market is a very important market, it is principally a large domestic market, particularly so during the last couple of years due to border restrictions. 

Walsh said most of the contribution that China makes to global CO2 emissions stems from its domestic aviation market, which is significantly larger than the amount the country’s airlines produce from international flights. 

“So, China can deal with their domestic market as they see best and will certainly do that,” Walsh said. 

He added that ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) deals with international aviation, and “this long term aspirational goal is principally an international issue.” 

Walsh also expressed some disappointment that ICAO is using the term aspirational as it considers targets to combat climate change. “I think it reflects the difference between the focus that a commercial business would have and what a government entity would have,” he said. “We’re [commercial businesses, with] definitely more drive and clear in terms of our ambition.

IATA’s director general also said that if ICAO does not adopt the LTAG, “it’s not going to stop us [IATA] continuing on our road to net zero by 2050.” 

Lori Ranson

Lori covers North American and Latin airlines for Aviation Week and is also a Senior Analyst for CAPA - Centre for Aviation.


1 Comment
It is hard to believe chinas domestic airlines are where most of the countries global CO2 contributions are from. Coal fired power plants produce less CO2 is very difficult to believe