Three opportunities for the UN’s aviation agency to deliver climate action

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

As International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 40th General Assembly kicks off this week in Montreal, aviation faces an existential challenge: the need to zero out its climate impact. Greta Thunberg, whose refusal to fly symbolizes the question every child of her generation will face, leads a climate strike on this Friday, that will march right to ICAO’s gates. Will their demands move the delegates representing 193 countries meeting inside?

Here are three opportunities the Assembly can take to back up their climate commitments with real action.

Get CORSIA up and running with transparency and integrity.
On the Assembly’s agenda will be ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which caps net carbon dioxide emissions from international flights at 2020 levels for the years 2021-2035 and allows airlines to meet the cap by flying more efficiently, switching to cleaner fuels, and investing in carbon offsets. New research shows that if implemented with integrity, CORSIA can significantly cut aviation’s warming impact.

Research also shows that airline customers want their airlines to take responsibility for their climate-damaging emissions – and they want the airlines to offset the climate impacts of those flights, even if it costs more.

Implementing CORSIA with strong rules can prompt airlines to find cost-effective ways to cut emissions, and incentivize large-scale technology shifts, while giving airlines the flexibility to offset emissions through lower-carbon fuels, forest conservation, and other verified reductions. But to achieve its promise and build public trust, ICAO must make CORSIA more transparent, and must ban double counting of emission reductions.

Set itself a deadline
The Assembly needs to set a deadline – preferably 2021, but not later than 2022 – for adopting a zero climate impact by 2050 target for aviation. The World Travel & Tourism Council has already asked its members to be net-zero-by-2050. ICAO is now lagging and must step up.

As laid out in the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation’s Vision, the roadmap must:

  • Broaden CORSIA’s coverage so that it limits all of aviation’s climate-damaging emissions, not just CO2.
  • Extend the emissions limits through 2050.
  • Ratchet the emissions limits downward to zero climate impact by 2050.

Listen to the youth
Youth – aviation’s future engineers, financiers, and customers – want the Assembly to deliver concrete solutions that put aviation on a path towards a sustainable future. They’re gathering outside the meeting to demand greater climate ambition from the aviation sector. The Assembly has the power and the opportunity to deliver.

ICAO should make clear that while it develops global programs to address emissions from international aviation, nations and regions, including the European Union, are welcome to undertake greater aviation ambition. All efforts need to be welcomed.

Aviation has played an important role in human history by making it easier for people to come together. The aviation sector can keep this important role – but only if it grapples effectively with its climate impact.

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