IATA's goal is net zero emissions by 2050

BOSTON — The global airline industry has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. 

“For airlines, net zero is a bold initiative. But it also is a necessity,” IATA director general Willie Walsh said.

The resolution, approved by IATA at its Annual General Meeting here on Monday, follows identical commitments that had already been made by trade groups representing airlines in the U.S. and Europe. 

Still, it’s a major step for IATA, which previously had committed only to reducing emissions by 50% of 2005 levels by 2050, placing airlines behind the curve in comparison to commitments being made by the broader international community. 

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, IATA chairman and host of the annual general meeting, said that that IATA’s board had reached the conclusion that committing to net zero emissions by 2050 “is the right thing do four our industry and humanity.”

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But he also said that if airlines didn’t increase their climate commitments, such decisions would likely be forced upon them. 

“I think the reason the industry has embraced this is the cost of not doing this,” Hayes said. 

Walsh said that ramped-up production and use of sustainable aviation fuel, coupled with carbon-offsetting, represents the path the industry can take to move toward net zero. But he added that other solutions, including carbon capture and development of hydrogen or electric aircraft, could also play a role. 

Reaching net zero by 2050 will cost the airline industry an estimated $2 trillion, Walsh said. 

IATA passed the resolution despite objections from Chinese carriers, which had pushed for a goal of net zero by 2060, in line with the policy of the Chinese state. 

The resolution says that airlines will need help. It calls on air traffic control entities to eliminate inefficiencies in air traffic management; pushes for manufacturers to produce radically more efficient airframes and engine technologies; and calls for help from airports and fuel producing companies in facilitating adoption of sustainable fuel. 

In addition, the resolution calls for governments to implement incentives for production of sustainable aviation fuel.

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