United Nations Members Reach Agreement to Achieve Net-Zero Aviation by 2050

January 14, 2023

In October 2022, the United Nations made a historic commitment to sustainable aviation by adopting a long-term goal of reaching net-zero aviation emissions by 2050. This decision marks a significant milestone in the fight against climate change and underscores the critical need to transition to more sustainable forms of air travel.

This official target provides a tangible framework for the aviation industry. It will require a concerted effort from everyone in the aviation industry, including airlines, manufacturers, and governments, to transition to cleaner and more efficient technologies. With the world's population growing and more people relying on air transportation, there has never been a more pressing need to work towards sustainable aviation.

A Historic Moment for Sustainable Aviation

Though innovating for sustainability throughout the industry is initially more costly, it’s a critical next step in the future of flight. Salvatore Sciacchitano, President of the ICAO (discussed below), said this net-zero aviation goal will “contribute to the green innovation and implementation momentum, which must be accelerated over the coming decades to ultimately achieve emissions-free powered flight.”

What Is the ICAO?

The ICAO is the International Civil Aviation Organization. Established in 1947, the ICAO has helped countries share airspace ever since. Its goal is to “achieve the sustainable growth of the global civil aviation system.” Since its inception, the ICAO has established a global air mobility network that connects families, businesses, and cultures around the world. 

The net-zero aviation goal developed from the ICAO’s meeting at the U.N.’s 41st Assembly this October. After two weeks of intense diplomacy, members adopted this goal and called for a third ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels in 2023. There’s still much to discuss, particularly financing and investment, but the fact that this heavily discussed goal is now moving toward reality is a concrete step forward.

What Is the Strategy?

In the last few years, the ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) has helped stabilize international emission levels at 2019 levels. Now, it will take a collective effort from the airline industry as well as individual governments to reduce aviation’s dependence on fossil fuels for a sustainable future. 

The first part of this strategy falls within the industry itself. This includes sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), new aircraft technology, more efficient operations and infrastructure, and new zero-emissions energy sources like electric and hydrogen power. Carbon emissions that can’t be reduced from these “in-sector” solutions will be reduced through “out-of-sector” solutions like carbon capture and storage and other credible offsetting methods.

To achieve this, all industry stakeholders must address what they can affect in sustainable aviation. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • Fuel-producing companies make SAF cost-effective and accessible to the market. 
  • Governments and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) manage air traffic and airspace infrastructure as efficiently as possible. 
  • Aircraft and engine manufacturers produce efficient, sustainable airframe and propulsion technologies. 
  • Airport operators provide cost-effective means of supplying SAF. 

As with all transportation advances, government support also plays a critical role in reaching cost-effective solutions. Production incentives can help increase supply and lower costs so sustainable resources like SAF are even more common for aircraft.

What Are the Milestones?

While there’s no way to predict exactly which methods will reduce specific amounts of CO2 emissions, there’s a base case scenario we can follow. It assumes that by 2050, the projected scale of the aviation industry would require 1.8 gigatons of carbon to be abated (gotten rid of). Following this scenario, we can assume 65% of the 1.8 carbon gigatons would be abated by SAF alone.

Here are milestones for the industry based on SAF production: 

  • 2025: SAF production is 7.9 billion liters (2% of total fuel requirement)
  • 2030: SAF production is 23 billion liters (5.2% of total fuel requirement)
  • 2035: SAF production is 91 billion liters (17% of total fuel requirement)
  • 2040: SAF production is 229 billion liters (39% of total fuel requirement)
  • 2045: SAF production is 346 billion liters (54% of total fuel requirement)
  • 2050: SAF production hits 449 billion liters (65% of total fuel requirement).

Since SAF is projected to reduce the highest collective percentage of CO2 emissions, it’s important to prioritize milestones around this while developing other sustainable measures to achieve net-zero flight.

What Does This Mean for Airlines?

Some might call net-zero aviation too aspirational and altogether impossible. But since its inception, the aviation industry has been built on bringing impossibilities into reality. 

We now face the “impossibility” of making one of the most popular forms of travel more sustainable. As we innovate to make SAF and other sustainable measures more accessible, this will require initial increased costs. But ultimately, a net-zero future for airlines ensures that flying will remain accessible for generations to come, not just for the elite. A net-zero future allows future generations to explore, learn, trade, build, and connect with other cultures and people, just as we have.

Odys Aviation Is Positioned to Help Make Net-Zero Targets a Reality

As we move closer to this net-zero goal, our aircraft is positioned to help make it a reality. Our hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft isn’t limited to traditional airports with long runways. It can take off from helipads, vertiports, and other locations, which makes it a much more flexible, efficient option for the modern passenger. 

Our aircraft flies up to 200 miles on purely electric power, eliminating CO2 emissions. Even for flights longer than 200 miles, our hybrid-electric design reduces CO2 emissions by 76% compared to a regional jet of the same size. We’re working to meet net-zero goals with an aircraft that has environmental sustainability without sacrificing practicality.

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