Sustainable Global Aviation Cleared for Takeoff

It was a humid 21°C on Friday, September 3 in Montreal, but it was cool inside the ICAO headquarters building where it was Green Policy Day online at the 2021 Stocktaking for CO₂ reductions in global aviation, a virtual four-day meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations.

Aeronautical pioneers, industry leaders, technical experts, researchers, innovators, and national authorities shared their most ambitious plans for decarbonizing international aviation during the event that attracted more than 1,000 virtual participants from every region of the world.

Jaco Stremler, acting director general of civil aviation of the Netherlands, opened Green Policy Day by calling for this special day to be seen as the start of a Green Policy Decade for aviation, characterized by multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Green Policy Day at ICAO’s 2021 Stocktaking for in-sector CO₂ reductions concluded with invitations to high ambition from governments and industry leaders. Participants highlighted innovations in technology, operations, and fuels to accelerate the realization of sustainable aviation.

This year’s event was particularly important as it was timed to prepare for global aviation sector’s response and actions in time for the United Nations' COP26 climate conference set for November in Glasgow. The Stocktaking event is also preparation for the upcoming ICAO General Assembly in 2022 where the long-term aspirational goals for aviation’s decarbonization will be put to ICAO members for adoption.

On August 31, Day One of the Stocktaking event, participants discussed the development of sustainable aviation roadmaps involving governments and industry stakeholders.

Director General of Airports Council International Luis Felipe de Oliveira outlined a zero carbon goal for airports, and Germany announced a funding and demonstration initiative for Power to Liquid fuels during this session.

The oneworld Alliance followed its 2050 net zero emissions target announced at last year’s ICAO Stocktaking with the announcement of its new carbon roadmap to achieve that goal.

oneworld Alliance Chairman and Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker said, "Today, oneworld establishes another milestone and call to all the industry stakeholders and governments to play their role and collaborate with airlines.”

WE NEED A STRONG COMMITMENT TO IMPROVE AIRSPACE INEFFICIENCY, INCENTIVIZE THE COMMERCIAL USE OF RECOGNIZED SUSTAINABLE AVIATION FUELS AND ACCELERATE THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW PROPULSION AND AIRFRAME TECHNOLOGIES. NOW IS THE TIME FOR INDUSTRY AND GOVERNMENTS TO WORK TOGETHER TOWARDS OUR SHARED CLIMATE GOALS.

Akbar Al Baker

oneworld Alliance Chairman and Qatar Airways Group CEO

Big Names Enhance ICAOs’s 2021 Stocktaking Event

Stocktaking 2021 opened with remarks from UK Aviation Minister Robert Courts (MP), UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, and ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar, who officially assumed the office of ICAO Secretary General on August 1, succeeding Dr. Fang Liu of China.

Later sessions were opened by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Norway’s Minister of Transport Knut Arild Hareide, and World Economic Forum President Borge Brende.

The latest science was reviewed by Working Group One Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), followed by remarks on industry emissions reductions commitments from International Air Transport Association (IATA) CEO Willie Walsh.

IATA recognizes the need to address the global challenge of climate change and adopted a set of ambitious targets to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport:

  • An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020
  • A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth)
  • A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels

The Clean Sky Joint Undertaking (CSJU), a public-private partnership between the European Commission and the European aeronautics industry that coordinates and funds research to deliver quieter and more environmentally-friendly aircraft, was a participant in a Green Policy Day panel.

Clean Sky’s Ron van Manen spoke at the ICAO Stocktaking during the final panel, entitled Enabling the sustainable transformation of the aviation sector.

Although great strides have been made in curbing aircraft emissions, van Manen said, growth of the aviation sector has consistently outpaced these gains.

He focused on how short-medium range aircraft are producing the lion’s share of emissions. "That’s why it’s a good idea to focus on making the short-medium range fleet sustainable, before tackling larger aircraft. With 2/3 of global emissions from flights shorter than 4000km, there is scope for technology disruption!" van Manen said.

Van Manen sees three thrusts that will be pursued under the European Partnership for Clean Aviation:

  • Hybrid electric and full electric architectures
  • Disruptive technologies to enable hydrogen-powered aircraft
  • Ultra-efficient aircraft architectures.

WE NEED TO KEEP PUSHING THE ENVELOPE IN TRADITIONAL AERONAUTICAL SCIENCES. BUT ALONGSIDE THIS, NEW DISCIPLINES SUCH AS HYBRIDIZATION, HIGH POWER ELECTRICAL NETWORKS AND HYDROGEN AS A FUTURE ON-BOARD ENERGY SOURCE WILL BRING KEY ENABLERS.

Ron van Manen

Head of Strategic Development Clean Sky Joint Undertaking

"The aviation system cannot rely on sustainable drop in fuels alone to secure its future. New technology that exploits the potential for step change in energy efficiency will still be needed, as well as better tailoring aircraft capabilities and designs to actual use. More advanced and disruptive options such as hydrogen-based power must be seriously investigated, as only this brings a true zero carbon future in sight," van Manen said.

Technology and Fuels Front and Center

The technology session featured presentations from manufacturers and researchers on new aircraft designs to reduce CO2 emissions, and the clean energy session heard a wide range of options on sustainable aviation fuels, hydrogen, and electrification, including updates on the new IRENA report on Reaching Zero with Renewables - Biojet Fuels.

SmartEnergy announced a new partnership with Sunfire during this session on a new PtL fuels project in Iberia.

Discussions on innovations in airports, operations and infrastructure showed that a comprehensive green energy transition for aviation will require both cleaner energy and modernized airport infrastructure. This was emphasized by Air Liquide announcing new airport hydrogen partnerships and initiatives.

The International Sustainability and Carbon Certification announced the first three certifications under the CORSIA Eligible Fuels certification standards.

ICAO and UNEP-FI announced a future collaboration to bring together the aviation and the financial services sectors to accelerate green transition investments.

Encouraging closing remarks were made by ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano, followed by an inspirational message from U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry encouraging countries at the ICAO Assembly in 2022 to set a long-term goal.

All of this is happening against the background of conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. ICAO said in January that as seating capacity fell by around 50 percent last year just 1.8 billion passengers took flights through 2020, compared with around 4.5 billion in 2019.

The result was a staggering financial loss to the industry of around US$370 billion, with airports and air navigation services providers together losing a further US$128 billion.

Still, all of the seminar speakers and participants were encouraged to join the ICAO Global Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, a forum for stakeholders seeking to facilitate the development of new ideas and accelerate the implementation of innovative solutions that will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions at source, on the ground, or in the sky.