Will the global aviation industry reach its 2050 net-zero target?

posted on 9th August 2023 by William Hallowell
Image credit: Ivan Shimko/Unsplash
Image credit: Ivan Shimko/Unsplash

With international efforts to combat climate change ever increasing, aviation is often seen as one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions.

According to the International Energy Agency, the aviation industry accounted for 2% of energy-related emissions globally last year “having grown faster in recent decades than rail, road or shipping”.

This calls into question just how realistic the business aviation industry’s goal is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Elise Fox, senior manager for Sustainability Solutions for World Fuel Services, believes the international effort to decarbonise the industry will succeed.

Talking on Aviation Week’s BCA podcast, she said: “The reality is there are changing tides, and all industries, not just aviation, are starting to pay a lot more attention to their emissions and what that means, and there’s a real drive to decarbonise.

“BGA in particular is a very visible sector. So, we all need to work together to try to understand what our emissions are and do what we can to reduce them.

“… We hear a lot about SAF (sustainable aviation fuels). And SAF I do believe is going to be our most important tool for helping decarbonise aviation”, she continued.

“But the reality is we have other levers that we can choose to use now such as energy efficiency and electrification in particular to help us reach those goals.

“So, it is just trying to get the BGA community [to] understand what their options are and that they have more options than SAF right now.”

However, the sustainability advisor added that the industry’s 2050 goals “[aren’t] going to be easy, cheap, or painless in the process”.

Some firms have already begun to map out plans to ‘electrify’ in attempts to reduce emissions. Delta Air Lines has set a number of ambitious milestones through its ground service equipment (GSE).

By 2025 the company aims for 50% of its GSE to be electrified and by 2035 to have 100% of Delta GSE hubs to be electrified. By 2025, it aims to have 100% net-zero operations.

But what could shifting attitudes to creating a more green industry mean for consumers? In April, the UK aviation industry said that going green was likely to push ticket prices up.

Sustainable Aviation said moving to higher-cost, sustainable fuel will “inevitably reduce passenger demand”.

The group added that SAFs would play a crucial part in the industry’s attempt to reduce carbon emissions.

However, earlier this year scientists warned that the UK would have to devote half its farmland or more than double its total renewable electricity supply to make enough aviation fuel to reach the 2050 net-zero target.

In spite of the industry’s commitment to the emissions target, they warned that huge challenges remain around the availability, costs and impacts of alternative fuels such as SAFs.