December 8, 2022

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After the global aviation sector gave the green light for net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, countries will have to stake out their positions at a United Nations meeting this week -- despite a lack of consensus.
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Montreal, Canada: After the global aviation sector gave the green light for net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, countries will have to stake out their positions at a United Nations meeting this week — despite a lack of consensus.

Delegates of the 193 member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) convene from Tuesday until October 7 at the Montreal headquarters of the UN agency for its 41st triennial assembly.

With air transport in the spotlight for its outsized role in the climate crisis, the assembly will consider an adjustment of its carbon offsetting mechanism (Corsia) and review its symbolic “long-term objective”: reducing net aviation emissions by mid-century.

The proposal will be subject to a majority vote, which does not seem to be assured against a backdrop of diplomatic stiffening and the energy crisis.

According to diplomatic sources, only China, the main thrust of global growth in air travel, is really opposed to it, along with Russia “opportunistically.” These countries prefer a 2060 horizon.

The question is how many countries will follow them, while some favour their own path to decarbonise aviation that, according to airlines, will require investments of $1.5 billion between 2021 and 2050.

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.

Planes attract particularly sharp criticism because only five percent of the world’s population fly.

In addition, 50 percent of airline emissions come from the one percent of travellers who fly the most, according to Transport & Environment (T&E).

Even if the “long-term objective” is adopted, this NGO considers that it is a “smokescreen” because there are no consequences for countries that do not meet the target.

– Resolutions against Russia, Belarus –

In 2021, the International Air Transport Association, which represents the world’s airlines, committed to achieving “net-zero emissions” by 2050, in order to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To do this, carriers are switching to renewable biofuels to get them to 65 percent of their emissions reduction goal, while also improving airline operational efficiencies, and tapping carbon capture technologies and carbon credit markets.

Limiting air travel is not, however, part of the assortment of solutions proposed by the IATA, which during its general assembly in June, asked the ICAO to put in place “stable policies.”

Aviation carbon neutrality by 2050 “is the European objective, it is the objective of our industrialists but it is not an objective, let’s be clear, shared at this stage by all the major economies of the world,” French Transport Minister Clement Beaune told AFP last week.

“I hope that at the end of this general meeting, we can get this commitment.”

The assembly will be the first since the start of the pandemic, which brought air travel to its knees: in 2021 the number of airline passengers was 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 in 2022 to see to 83 percent of its customer levels from three years ago and to become profitable again worldwide next year.

This general assembly will be “an opportunity to turn the page on the pandemic” and should mark the “willingness to resume differently with a very strong environmental dimension,” hopes a diplomatic source.

But international tensions are also expected.

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Nations are pushing for a vote condemning Russia, which has registered hundreds of leased planes at home rather than returning them, as required by sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine in February.

Belarus, which in May 2021 intercepted a Ryanair plane carrying a critic of the government, is also targeted by a draft resolution condemning this alleged breach of global civil aviation rules.

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© Agence France-Presse

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