The International Air Transport Association (IATA) launched its inaugural World Sustainability Symposium (WSS) in Madrid, Spain, with a primary focus on the critical steps required to achieve the aviation industry’s ambitious commitment to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by the year 2050.
The WSS serves as a platform for key decision-makers from across the aviation industry, along with regulators and the financial sector, to collaborate and develop solutions necessary to achieve this ambitious sustainability goal. The symposium underscores the industry’s commitment to addressing climate change and reducing its environmental impact in the years to come.
“Air travel demand shows that we all want a world where we can fly and do so while reducing our carbon footprint. Sustainability is the industry’s greatest challenge, and we are not shying away from our responsibilities. Our commitment to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 is firm,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
“The WSS will allow participants to focus on the same mission, with ambition and urgency, to build momentum to reach our goal. We are here to share learnings, keep abreast of the pace of change, and adjust our work accordingly, while rallying governments and stakeholders to facilitate decarbonisation within the industry,” he added.
At the World Sustainability Symposium (WSS), several critical elements are under discussion to attain net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. These include climate impact mitigation strategies, where Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) are anticipated to be the major contributor, making up 62 per cent of the efforts. However, despite high demand, SAF supply remains inadequate, presenting significant scaling challenges.
Experts at the WSS will explore solutions such as government policies to incentivise production, diversification of production methods and feedstocks, global frameworks for consistent SAF output, attracting investment, establishing a robust SAF accounting framework, and potential benefits from carbon capture and storage technologies.
Additionally, the symposium will examine broader strategies like hydrogen or electric-powered aircraft and ongoing efficiency improvements in airframe and engine technologies. Collaboration’s role in value chains is also a key focus, reflecting the industry’s diverse approach to mitigating environmental impacts. This encompasses addressing non-CO2 impacts like contrails and eliminating plastic from aircraft cabins.Also, the WSS places a spotlight on tracking progress towards the net-zero target. IATA member airlines committed to achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 in 2021, and in 2022, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted a similar goal for international aviation. However, the symposium acknowledged the absence of a concrete plan for monitoring and tracking progress at the industry level. WSS will aim to develop a consistent methodology and reporting mechanism, accounting for various decarbonisation levers such as SAF, next-generation aircraft, infrastructure enhancements, operational improvements, and carbon offsetting/removal of residual emissions.
Lastly, key enablers for this transition to net-zero include globally aligned strategic policies and collaboration between governments and industry stakeholders, mirroring successful energy transitions like renewable energy. The symposium’s focus extends to the pivotal roles of finance and policy in expediting progress while mitigating associated costs and investments necessary to enable this energy transition.
According to IATA, the WSS serves as a vital platform for addressing these multifaceted challenges and driving aviation towards its net-zero CO2 emissions objective by 2050.
Hinting that there is clearly no time to waste, Marie Owens Thomsen, IATA’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability and Chief Economist acknowledged that WSS aims to identify areas for concrete action that can accelerate aviation’s transition to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
“This is a tough and dynamic challenge, and no single action is going to provide a magic solution on its own. Instead, we need to move forward on all fronts simultaneously, and this will require a unique level of collaboration across all parts of our industry, together with regulators and the financial sector. This is why the WSS and its future editions are of critical importance – allowing key decision makers, all necessary in aviation’s net-zero transition, to confront ideas and debate solutions so that we can make things happen, together,” said Thomsen.