The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28), this year held in Dubai, involved another global effort to combat climate change. COP28 marks the first time a deal to reduce the use of fossil fuels has been agreed by all countries at the annual UN climate summit.
As experts, world leaders, and the international community convened to address pressing environmental issues, one sector - always under close scrutiny where the environment is concerned - was aviation. The aviation industry has been, and continues to be, a significant contributor to global carbon emissions, prompting further discussions at COP28 about how to make air travel more sustainable. So what was discussed, and what agreements were made?
While road transport is still the primary contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, aviation is still responsible for 12% of global CO2 emissions, with only 3% attributed to commercial aviation. This is primarily due to the combustion of fossil fuels, a fuel type the industry is struggling to move away from. Traditional jet engines release carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and other pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to the sector's environmental footprint. As climate concerns intensify, finding sustainable solutions for air travel has become imperative.
As expected, COP28 saw many discussions about setting more ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, with the aviation industry being no exception. Countries and stakeholders agreed to continue collaborating on developing and implementing innovative technologies and practices to make aviation more environmentally friendly. These agreements aim to align the aviation sector with broader global efforts, such as the Paris Agreement, to limit the rise in average global temperatures.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN agency responsible for helping 193 countries to cooperate on aviation matters, repeated their recently announced commitment to adopt an ICAO Global Framework for Aviation Cleaner Energies. This framework commits to ‘strive to achieve a collective global aspirational Vision’ of reducing international aviation CO2 emissions by 5 per cent by 2030, through the use of cleaner fuels such as SAF and LCAF.
Addressing the COP28 Presidential Roundtable on Energy Transition, ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano stated
“The adoption of this Framework sends a clear signal to the international community on the continued leadership of ICAO in addressing emissions from international aviation. ICAO remains fully committed in leading the sector’s efforts towards supporting the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.”
While the industry acknowledged the impact it has on the environment, many leaders in the industry once again reiterated that, proportionally, commercial aviation is one of the smaller global contributors to CO2 emissions. As we previously reported, the entire industry is desperate for more help from governments and the private sector, calling for increased funding and infrastructure to purchase and implement SAF.
Teresa Parejo, head of sustainability at Iberia Airlines, reiterated this when interviewed, stating
“We are the ones most interested in moving towards sustainability, we want SAF. It is so critical to us because it's a move from fossil fuels to a sustainable way of transportation – but we need help."
There is also a clear sense of frustration at how the industry sees itself being targeted, however.
“Sometimes I wonder why the focus is on aviation so much because there are so many other sectors that contribute as much or even more. People need to understand that aviation is critical for the well-being of many countries, even vulnerable ones that depend on tourism. It's not just people who want to have fun that travel. Aviation creates jobs and wealth and is critical for humanitarian purposes.”
But it may be that the industry itself needs to do more to communicate success when it comes to embracing sustainability. Jane Hupe, chief of the environmental unit at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), said
“We have done so much, but we're terrible at explaining it and announcing it to the world. Please let's do more outreach, let's talk about what aviation is doing. Let's make the world understand where we are, because we are so advanced, and sometimes I hear people talking about things we resolved 15 years ago."
SAFs are produced from renewable sources like bioenergy, synthetic fuels, or hydrogen, providing a cleaner alternative to traditional aviation fuels. The international community, including airlines and fuel suppliers, committed to investing in the research, development, and implementation of SAFs to reduce CO2 generated by air travel.
IATA reiterated their belief that SAF could contribute more than 60% of the emissions reduction needed in aviation globally by 2050 - but acknowledged that airlines are struggling to buy enough to power flights, with a drastic need for more SAF production and global infrastructure required to reach targets.
In the meantime, COP28 highlighted the importance of carbon offsetting and market-based measures. Airlines are encouraged to invest in projects that remove or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, both within and outside the aviation sector. This approach aims to compensate for the unavoidable emissions generated by air travel until more sustainable technologies become widely adopted.
COP28 discussions also focused on fostering technological advancements within the aviation sector, with the goal of accelerating the development of more fuel-efficient aircraft, and exploring alternative propulsion systems such as electric and hybrid-electric engines. Investing in research and development to make air travel more energy-efficient is seen as a key strategy in achieving the emission reduction targets set at the conference.
We believe that a key way to increase fuel efficiency and reduce costs across the entire aviation industry is through the effective use of real-time data and technology. The most effective approach is that of a supply chain ‘biosphere’ of applications, all of which use cutting-edge technology to communicate data across airlines, airports, fuel suppliers and into-plane providers, allowing for significant improvements in operational and fuel efficiency.
In conclusion, COP28's impact on the aviation industry underscores the urgency of addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from air travel. The resolutions and agreements reached during the conference signal a collective commitment to transforming the aviation sector into a more sustainable and environmentally responsible industry. As the world continues to grapple with climate challenges, the aviation industry's efforts to embrace cleaner technologies and practices will play a vital role in shaping a greener future for global transportation.