Zero emissions target for air travel eyed at UN summit

International Civil Aviation Organization holds first assembly since COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The International Civil Aviation Organization headquarters building is seen in Montreal, Canada.
The International Civil Aviation Organization’s assembly is discussing a zero-net emissions target for air travel [File: Christinne Muschi/Reuters]

Countries have been urged to go beyond “mere aspirations” and set a target of zero-net emissions for air travel, as the UN’s aviation body meets for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the opening of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) assembly on Tuesday, Salvatore Sciacchitano, president of the ICAO Council, said “mere aspirations are no longer sufficient where our climate, and the well-being of our planet and all its species are concerned.”

“When challenges confront humanity on a truly global scale, as they most certainly do today, there is an expectation for aviation to be at the leading edge of our collective global response,” said Sciacchitano, who heads one of the agency’s two governing bodies.

The ICAO assembly, which takes place every three years, follows a preparatory meeting in July that called on the body’s 193 member states to come together to reach an agreement to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The assembly, which takes place over 10 days in Montreal, Canada, is also expected to discuss the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and aviation-related issues stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which resulted in Western governments and airlines blacklisting Russian airspace.

The bid by governments to hammer out a deal comes after global airlines agreed last October to commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Reaching an agreement would likely require bridging significant differences among countries, with major economies including China, Russia and India setting less ambitious targets for zero emissions by 2060 or 2070.

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents almost 300 airlines, said the industry hoped the ICAO would address the many challenges facing the sector.

“For example, governments must learn the lessons of COVID-19 so that the next pandemic does not result in closed borders bringing social and economic hardship,” Willie Walsh said.

“We also need governments to support the industry’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 with their own commitment and corresponding policy measures on decarbonization. The right decisions by governments can accelerate the recovery from COVID-19 and strengthen the foundations for aviation’s decarbonization.”

Air travel is a significant contributor to climate change, producing 2.5-3 percent of global emissions.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies