This article is the first in a series on how the aviation industry can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Subsequent articles will look at the importance of sustainable aviation fuels to this effort, the need for industry collaboration on new technologies, the evolving role of offsets, and the need for continuing technology and efficiency improvements.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the difficulty of decarbonizing the aviation industry by 2050 rates a 12. The importance of decarbonization, for the industry and for the rest of us, rates a 12 as well.
Even as the airline industry works to recover from the worst business downturn in its history, its leaders are clear-eyed about the necessity and the hurdles of decarbonization. While the industry is far from the worst when it comes to carbon emissions, without action, its contribution to global emissions could grow from 2% to 3% to as much as 20% by 2050. As one executive put it, “The goalpost hasn’t changed.” If anything, the COVID-19 crisis has brought the potential consequences of climate change into sharper focus in the public eye. And as climate concerns rise, customers, employees, shareholders, and governments are watching. Recent moves by activist shareholders and EU policymakers underscore the urgency. Those carriers that don’t act on their own could have change imposed by outside forces.
Here’s our overview of what it will take for airlines to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s a complex picture. The key moving parts are how far current technologies can go, the prospects for emerging technologies, the outlook for removal technologies, and what airlines can do, individually and collectively with their partners, to speed things up.
THE CURRENT COMPONENTS OF DECARBONIZATION
Like other industries, the airline sector needs to apply a portfolio of solutions to reach net zero. (See Exhibit 1.) But unlike other industries, there are so few alternatives to air travel that it’s hard to avoid emissions without doing away with the basic product. Reducing aircraft emissions in any significant way therefore requires decarbonization.
More information here.