Representatives from 193 nations agree in Canada's Montreal city to try to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in air travel by 2050, says International Civil Aviation Organization.

Air transportation industry has faced growing pressure to deal with its outsized role in the climate crisis.
Air transportation industry has faced growing pressure to deal with its outsized role in the climate crisis. (Twitter/@icao)

UN aviation agency members have set the year 2050 as their goal for achieving net-zero carbon emissions for air travel -- an industry often criticised for its outsized role in the climate crisis.

The assembly, which brought together representatives from 193 nations at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) headquarters in Montreal on Friday, reached a "historic agreement on a collective long-term aspirational goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050!" ICAO said on Twitter.

It added that it "continues to advocate for much more ambition and investment by states to ensure aviation is fully decarbonised by 2050 or earlier."

"It's an excellent result," a diplomatic source told the AFP news agency, revealing that only four countries -- including China, the main thrust of global growth in air travel -- "had expressed reservations."

The agreement, however, was far from satisfying for some non-governmental organisations expressing regret it didn't go far enough and was not legally binding.

Massive investments to decarbonise aviation

The air transportation industry has faced growing pressure to deal with its outsized role in the climate crisis.

Currently responsible for 2.5 percent to three percent of global CO2 emissions, the sector's switch to renewable fuels is proving difficult, even if the aeronautics industry and energy companies are seeking progress.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said airlines were "strongly encouraged" by the adoption of the climate goal, coming one year after the IATA endorsed the same position at its own general meeting.

IATA director general Willie Walsh said now "we expect much stronger policy initiatives in key areas of decarbonization such as incentivising the production capacity of sustainable aviation fuels."

According to airlines, it will require massive investments -- $1.55 trillion between 2021 and 2050 -- to decarbonise aviation.

"The global aviation community welcomes this landmark agreement," said Luis Felipe de Oliveira, head of Airports Council International which represents 1,950 airports in 185 countries.

"This is a watershed moment in the effort to decarbonise the aviation sector with both governments and industry now heading in the same direction, with a common policy framework," he said in a statement.

Deal is non-binding

The French Minister in charge of Transport, Clement Beaune, welcomed "a major step forward," saying on Twitter that "there will be no future for the plane without decarbonisation" and that he was "proud of having fought this fight with my European counterparts."

Planes in general attract particularly sharp criticism because only about 11 percent of the world's population flies each year, according to a widely quoted 2018 study by Nordic researchers.

In addition, 50 percent of airline emissions come from the one percent of travellers who fly the most, it found.

"This is not aviation's Paris agreement moment. Let's not pretend that a non-binding goal will get aviation down to zero," said Jo Dardenne of NGO Transport & Environment.

She also expressed disappointment over lackluster tweaks considered by delegates to the sector's carbon offsetting and reduction scheme, known as CORSIA.

During the 10-day meeting, Russia had sought but failed to get enough votes to be re-elected to the ICAO's governing council, which is responsible for ensuring compliance with aviation rules.

Moscow was accused of breaking international rules by registering hundreds of leased planes in Russia rather than returning them, as required by sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine in February.

The ICAO general meeting was the first since the start of the pandemic, which had brought the airline industry to its knees. In 2021 passenger numbers stood at only half the 4.5 billion in 2019, marking a small rebound from the 60 percent year-over-year drop in 2020.

The sector hopes 2022 to draw 83 percent of its customer levels from three years ago and to become profitable again worldwide next year.

Source: AFP