Aviation Industry Pledges To Reduce 2050 Emissions To 2005 Levels

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During the United Nations Climate Summit held last month, leading industry association in the aviation sector pledged to take action to implement several measures with an ultimate goal to bring down the sectoral emissions in 2050 to 2005 levels.

Aircraft Contrail

A number of industry associations representing airports, airlines, and other related sectors signed an agreement to implement measures to improve flight operations, develop alternate fuels, and even develop a market-based mechanism to reduce international aviation emissions.

The agreement was signed between the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Council International, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization, and the International Business Aviation Council.

Even with the most aggressive technology and operational improvements in the aviation sector by 2050, the sectoral emissions are set to increase by about four times the 2005 emissions. As per ICAO estimates, the international aviation emissions (pdf) could be anywhere between 2.3 and 4.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050, based on various scenarios of technology and operational improvements. In 2006, the sectoral emissions were 591 million tonnes of CO2e.

The European Union had proposed to include a large part of the international aviation sector into its emissions trading scheme from 2012 onwards. Non-EU countries led by India, China, and the United States came out with fierce opposition to the proposal with several misinformed officials calling it a “carbon tax” on flights.

The EU relented, and continued with the implementation of the emissions trading scheme within its own jurisdiction through the “stop the clock” decision in April 2013. EU’s initial move to include international flights into its emissions trading scheme is now largely seen as a strategic initiative to put pressure on the airlines and international aviation agencies to adopt measures to reduce emissions.

The ICAO now has until 2016 to agree to an international market-based mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and implement the same by 2020. Failing to achieve these milestone would mean that the EU will force its ETS on international flights originating or terminating within its jurisdiction. ICAO’s efforts towards achieving an international market-linked mechanism have so far been quite disappointing. Whether or not it is able to build consensus on such a mechanism by 2016 would also depend on the outcome of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris.

Image credit: Aleksandr Markin | CC BY-SA 2.0

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Mridul Chadha

Mridul currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

Mridul Chadha has 425 posts and counting. See all posts by Mridul Chadha

43 thoughts on “Aviation Industry Pledges To Reduce 2050 Emissions To 2005 Levels

  • Hydrogen planes, subsidies, taxes etc. I don’t care if they cost 10x more initially. Flying is a completely unnecessary luxury.

    • I worked out that covering the open areas in Adelaide airport with solar panels and using the electricity to produce hydrogen would provide enough energy to fly the entire population of Adelaide to Sydney and back two and a half times a year. (Note: I haven’t bothered to check this.) However, hydrogen doesn’t appear to be the cheapest option at the moment. But renewable energy plus hydrogen production is an option which basically puts an upper limit on the cost of low emission air travel.

    • @UniqueNamesAreStupid:disqus, do you ever use a car? Have goods delivered? Own a TV or a phone? Eat, or heat up/cool down your home, beyond what’s required for survival?

      Those are “completely unnecessary luxury” as well my friend. Yes, all those activities need to both minimize their footprint and cover for the remaining environmental damage they cause, but singling out one thing just because it doesn’t matter to you comes out as hypocrite.

      Re hydrogen: I reckon that liquid fuels will remain of choice for large aircrafts instead, with reduction in CO2 coming primarily from higher bio-fuels contents.

      • I don’t own a car, I cycle everywhere. I believe in having 100% renewables energy, I could easily afford to pay 3x for my electricity since I don’t use it much and don’t mind investing in LED lights etc to keep the bills down.

        TVs can be powered by renewables. Electric and hydrogen vehicles can be powered by renewables.

        I did the math, hydrogen is cheaper than oil based fuels when made with the cheapest renewable energy. Storage is the tricky bit. Hydrogen is in a much better place now that solar was 20 years ago.

        I’m not a capitalist and I don’t support the American dream, to me it represents rampant consumerism without compromise.

        Do you have something against sustainable living?

      • I’m not singling out one thing, I think we need to massively change the way we live our lives. The article is about aviation which is currently responsible for 2.5% of CO2 emissions and that could easily double or treble if not stopped.

  • This is pathetic. It will take them 36 years to get back to what it was 9 years ago?

    No, we need to shrink the economy, and aviation is low-hanging fruit.

    • We need to de-couple the economy from fossil fuels. The economy needs to keep on growing but in a sustainable way.

      • Is that possible? Let me ask you – when is it “done” growing? Or do you think we can have exponential growth on a finite planet – forever?

        • I didn’t say exponential growth in use of non-renewable resources. As long as there’s an energy source (e.g. the Sun) and a closed cycle for the materials being used it can and must be done. Obviously its a long term project, so humanity needs to focus on what does most damage and currently that’s global warming and loss of biodiversity.

        • My 90th level Paladin/Assassian has a jabillion gillion gold pieces and a +10 sword of elephant slaying. So yes, we can have exponential growth on a finite planet, provided people value some pretty weird things. But forever? Well, the heat death of the universe might have something to say about that. Remember, “Forever is a long time, Will Robinson.”

          On a more immediate and practical level there is no reason why everyone in the world can’t have good food, sanitation, modern medicine, a comfortable place to live, and overseas holidays all provided in a way that does not damage the environment any further than it is already damaged. We don’t need to produce more barrels of oil to provide that. We have the technology. We can build our civilisation cleaner, more sustainable, more equitable than ever before.

          • Again, a strawman. I didn’t say forever.

          • Mephy asked about forever.

  • How much of a subsidy does aviation currently get from the infrastructure maintained primarily for the land based use of fossil fuels?

  • By 2050? By putting the target that far in the future they are setting themselves up to fail. It is all to easy to say the target is by 2050 so we don’t need to do much yet.

    What ‘alternative fuels’ have similar energy density to jet fuel and emit very little CO2?

    Other than making sure planes land quickly once they reach their destination, I don’t see much room for improvement with conventional aircraft. And since air travel is set to increase, I’m calling BS on the aviation industry’s statement.

  • Jet fuel derived from a Bio fuel is carbon neutral.
    A carbon tax could be used to lower cost of the Bio fuel.

  • Build high speed rail. Eliminate most short and medium length air travel. That will produce a very significant reduction in the amount of fuel we use for air travel.

    Remember, taking off is where a lot of energy is needed. If we eliminate most of the short hops stuff it will have a lot of impact.

    Before long, as batteries improve, we may be able to cruise on battery power and use fuel only for takeoff. That might make long flights a bit slower, but if passenger comforts were increased then many people would welcome the trade off.

    Stretch the plane a bit for more leg room. The savings from flying mostly on electricity should cover the cost.

    • We could probably launch planes to takeoff velocity by some sort of renewable powered tech. Aircraft carriers use steam catapults, but I was thinking something along the lines of linear induction motors. And we could have battery powered airplane towing vehicles to reduce the need for taxiing.

      Short hops (less than 200kilometers) may be amenable to electric planes).

      Turboprops, which are often used for short to medium hops, are about twice as fuel efficient as jets.

      But, all of this isn’t even enough to reach the 2050 “goal”. Its not an easy problem, unless you make the fuels from renewables < which is technically doable, but cost may be another issue.

      • The current goal of the military in the US is to have algae derived jet fuel down to 3$/gallon by 2030.
        But I still prefer Bob’s solution of getting all the shorter runs done by rail. Plenty of leg room and with the time not spent dealing with airport security, and getting a taxi into the city from and to the airport you would probably arrive in an equivalent amount of time.

        • Biofuels still hurt the atmosphere/climate. I.E. contrails, and whatever chemical changes are made in the upper atmosphere do have an effect, beyond just the longterm accumulation of greenhouse gases. How much cirrus clouds are derived from contrails?

          So getting fewer flights, and maybe fuels that don’t leave condensation nuclei behind would be a big deal.

          • As I said in the second part of my comment it will be better if we reduce the total number of flights. While the first part was just addressing that the costs of biofuels will likely be less than traditional fossil fuels.
            As for emissions, contrails, etc. There was a post on here awhile back where a algae production farm utilizing growth in solar heated tubes floating in coastal waters was able to result in net CO2 negative fuels with the other derivative products. This is a farm that was going into commercial production under one of the military support programs.
            So it seems that it will be possible to continue some use of these biofuels without additional damage to the atmosphere.

    • This was my thought while reading the article, let’s reduce the airlines emissions by riding the rails for those trips that are less than 500 or even a 1,000 miles.
      Now for those long distance or intercontinental flights… let’s get some real vacation time here in the US, like 4 weeks a year, and go back to riding the zeppelin’s. Saw some pictures from what it was like traveling on the Hindenberg a couple of weeks back. Now that was traveling in style. But of course with the lift provided by helium, not hydrogen, although hydrogen could be a clean source of fuel for the motors.

    • cruising on battery power should actually be faster than cruising on burning stuff with atmospheric oxygen. Normally planes have to fly at a compromise height where the air is thick enough to supply oxygen but as thin as possible to reduce drag. When the fan blade is turned with an electric motor we can climb higher.

    • Actually self driving EV’s will solve a major portion of short trips. Anything under 5 hours and you can get all your work done while it drives. They should be pretty good by 2020.

  • Cutting emissions from flight is easy:
    1. Thow out the seats. Strap people into vertical harnesses.
    2. Charge by the kilogram, person plus luggage.
    3. Switch to a Soviet style system where the plane takes off when it’s full.

    If you are too decadent and capitalist to accept those simple changes then a high enough price on carbon will result in emissions from current kerosene powered planes being removed from the atmosphere and sequested and will encourage the development of planes that aren’t powered by fossil fuels.

      • Thats a link to a 2010 story saying testing next year and production to begin in 2013. It is now 2014 so maybe a follow-up link saying they did or did not make it. And if they made it what the cost are now.

      • And how much surface area would need to be covered with algae to support the aviation industry?

  • One way to reduce the amount of jet fuel used is to do it while the plane is
    taxiing on the ground, with electric motors built into the wheels . . .


    New generation turboprop motors also burn much less fuel . . .


    . . . and are perfectly suited to short haul commercial passenger use as a replacement for the turbofan engine.

    It’s time, also, to get away from the cigar fuselage jetliner (which is now over
    60 years old) and adopt more aerodynamically efficient blended wing/body
    designs . . .


    For smaller private aircraft, we can now do it with electricity in much the same
    way we are able to do it with EVs on the ground . . .


    . . . and recharge the batteries with solar PV installed on top of the hangars . . .


    Generally, though, Bob nailed the bigger issues of getting rid of so much short
    haul domestic passenger jet flights in the first place and finally getting high speed rail implemented in the US.

  • My prediction for what will be powering planes in 2050 – oil.

    This isn’t as pessermistic as one might think. If oil use in ground transport is more or less entirely replaced with electricity there is likely to be plenty of oil for use by fuel efficient airliners of the future at low cost. And provided we have a sensible carbon price in place by that point the CO2 released into the atmosphere by planes can be captured and sequestered. Using agriculture to sequester capture and sequester CO2 released would require less land than producing biofuels and may be less expensive.

    • It’s certainly worth a hard look, using fossil fuels for “necessary” flying and offsetting the carbon with active carbon sequestering.

  • As Mr Logic answered 16 day average in the US, but I think that is including some national holidays where you only get one day at a time, because ten days or two weeks is more typical in this workaholic country. Unless you are a part of the privileged few, seems like my doctor is on vacation everytime an appointment is needed.

    • The US Department of Energy and the Department of Defense are two different organizations. They are not the same. In Tina’s article, she said nothing about Jet fuel.

      The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military.

      As far as your comments “The reality is that the research you’re talking about was nowhere near ready to make that outlandish claim.” Do you have I a link to back that up?

      • It doesn’t matter if they’re different organizations. If algal biofuel research is promising, then it’ll get funded by either.


        They’re aiming for $5/gal by 2019 and $3/gal by 2030. Your link talks of $2/gal in 2010. It’s clearly BS, either by the DARPA assistant or the journalist.

        I don’t need to provide a link. You need to in order to show any of the things projected back then panned out.

        On top of the DOE funding, you have companies like Exxon pumping in hundreds of millions into algal biofuels with nothing to show for it.

  • For the industry to have signed up to this, even in a non-binding way, means that it is pretty confident that solutions exist in the medium term: biofuels, synfuels, hydrogen, electric. The highest hanging fruit are steel, cement and shipping, conspicuously absent from the New York lovefest.

    • I wish I shared your optimism, but the deadline is an absurd 2050 to reverse just 9 years of increases and it is non binding.

      The European Union had proposed to include a large part of the international aviation sector into its emissions trading scheme from 2012 onwards. Non-EU countries led by India, China, and the United States came out with fierce opposition to the proposal with several misinformed officials calling it a “carbon tax” on flights.

    • Interesting piece on concrete with less CO2 a few days ago –

      “Researchers from the MIT claim to have found the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from one of the most polluting processes- that of making cement. The team did not introduce any new ingredients. Instead, they only tweaked the ratio between calcium and silica-rich clay.

      Cement is one of the core ingredients in the making of concrete, the most widely used building material around. Unfortunately, this material is just as polluting as it is useful, and regardless of the numerous efforts, no one has been able to come up with a viable solution to reducing the amount of emissions released during the production process. Probably the most functional solution to date comes from Norway, where cement factory is building a CO2-capturing facility right next to their production plant. There was also the biostone, the greener alternative to cement, but this is still a proof-of-concept.

      Considering that there is a huge lack of developments in the field, a team of MIT researchers, led by senior researcher Roland Pellenq, decided to take a closer look at the cement mix, going down to molecular level. They questioned the standard calcium to silica ratio of 1.7, which is commonly accepted as the one resulting in the most stable and strong cement.

      After conducting a series of experiments, however, the team established that the optimal calcium-to-silica clay ratio should in fact be 1.5. Not only that the final product has incredible mechanical resistance , which is double the one achieved with a ratio of 1,7, and it is much less prone to fracturing, but also the team estimated a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from the manufacturing process of up to 60%.

      The study published in Nature Communications paves the way to exciting new research that could potentially lead to the solution of this ever-so-worrying problem. The work is still at its initial stages, meaning that there is still quite a bit to be done before the technology can be brought to the market. However, if it turns out that it can be scaled up, it will completely transform numerous industries. ”


    • You may be right, on a planet where a species is not known to employ marketing spin and politics. May I suggest, that is not our planet.

  • Bio fuels are the only answer that will work politically and socially. Algae farms can produce about 20X the fuel per acre as corn ethanol and can convert brine to H2O.

    The number of flights going in and out of San Francisco airport actually decreased a bit over the last 10 years as planes got larger, even as the number of passengers increased. The future planes will be even larger, and more aerodynamic which combined with turning down the speed 5%-10% can increase fuel economy from about 100 MPG per passenger to about 150 MPG. The average pasenger flight is nearly 800 miles according to the US DOT so HS Rail isn’t going to help much, especially getting from SF to NYC or Tokyo. I have to think most of the passenger growth is coming from Asia where HSR is booming but the distances can be large.

    You can argue no one should take planes, but even in the EU, with subsidised HS rail and relatively small distances, people fly. Deal with the human species as it is, not as you wish it were or you end up with people thinking that environmentalism means being too hot in the Summer and too cold in the Winter and taking too long to get anywhere. Scolding people for the way they live plays into the hands of anti-greens and you get Reagan taking down the solar panels Carter put up and putting a lot fo change on hold.

    • I totally understand that we will best succeed when we can give people alternatives that painlessly replace what they now use. EVs, for example, will be more convenient, nicer to drive, and much cheaper to operate.

      But we may not find those perfect solutions for everything. We might have to do a bit of ‘social engineering’ to move people from short distance flights to HSR.

      • You could reduce weight limit on luggage. Or reward those like myself pack less. Do a better job on filling the plane to full capacity. Washing the plans more often. New air craft made with light material and more fuel efficient engines.

        And something no one ever wants to talk about, lighter-than-air aircraft.

  • when I read the posters comments on this, my main thought was wtf…
    get a grip, I do not want to live in that kind of world….

Comments are closed.