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Reducing aviation’s emissions across the globe

If aviation were a country, it would be the seventh largest in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, and if no action is taken, pollution from aviation could triple by 2050. While there are several possible ways to approach this problem – incentivising technology improvements and sustainable biofuels, for example – such measures are likely to have only a limited effect given the likely growth in demand.Against this backdrop, governments have for many years been discussing the possible inclusion of aviation in carbon markets, in the hope that this will allow the sector’s emissions to be accounted for through emissions reductions made elsewhere in the economy (or elsewhere in the world). Achieving agreement among states on how to do this has proved an extremely difficult process however, and big questions remain about whether this approach will be environmentally effective, particularly in the longer term. Meanwhile aviation presents unique problems related to the release of emissions at high altitudes. Scientists have estimated that the sector’s warming impact is likely to be around twice that of its CO2 emissions alone. As well as CO2, aviation emits nitrogen oxides, water, sulphur oxides, hydrocarbon and soot, which form contrails and additional cirrus cloud, and react to change concentrations of ozone and methane in our atmosphere.

What we want to see

  • A global agreement to reduce emissions that goes beyond the current target of keeping emissions, on a net basis, at 2020 levels
  • The inclusion of both CO2 and non-CO2 impacts in emissions-reduction goals

 What we’re doing

  • We are part of the umbrella organisation ICSA (the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation), which is recognised as the formal voice of civil society at the UN’s aviation body ICAO. ICSA uses its observer status to participate in the ongoing environmental work programme, sending experts to working groups covering alternative fuels, technology, and market-based measures
  • We are leading two of the tasks supporting the ICAO work programme, namely the Carbon Calculator and the development of criteria that will be used to agree eligible offset credits for use in ICAO’s offsetting scheme, CORSIA
  • We are working towards improving scientific understanding of non-CO2 climate impacts, ensuring alternative fuels and offsets are environmentally robust and have sustainability benefits, and that UN action is supported with strong regional measures, where necessary, to increase climate ambition
  • In the run up to the last UN aviation assembly, ICSA ran the Flightpath 1.5 campaign, which called for aviation to contribute its fair share to the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.