IATA director general Willie Walsh believes the airline industry will need to provide evidence to critics that it is on the way to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

At the IATA AGM in Boston 2021, the industry took a significant step towards decarbonisation by adopting a resolution that committed it to reaching net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050.

Willie Walsh iata

Source: Billypix

Walsh believes milestones will be needed to demonstrate industry is on net-zero path

“I think having a 2050 goal was a good start and it wasn’t without difficulty getting the industry there, because not every airline accepts that we can do it as they are worried about the financial impact and what it will mean for their financial viability. But we are there.” said Walsh, speaking during a panel debate at the Sustainable Skies event in Farnborough on 17 April.

”I think the next thing will be milestones along the way, because clearly what the critics will say is that ’you guys are going to have to demonstrate that you are on a path to net-zero’.”

Walsh says airlines will increasingly highlight evidence that they are “on track” to achieve the 2050 goal. 

In producing its roadmap towards net-zero by 2050, IATA estimated that the biggest share of CO2 savings would be delivered through increasing use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). A broad industry ambition sees SAF representing 10% of total annual fuel use by 2030, with some countries, the UK for instance, planning to mandate that figure.

But a continued impediment to increased SAF useage is its low availability amid an absence of policies to boost production. While the USA’s Inflation Reduction Act is credited with incentivising SAF output in the country through the use of tax credits, industry leaders continue to call for similar policies within the EU and the UK.

Despite this, Walsh is confident a 10% SAF target is “achievable” by 2030. “The questions that people have around ‘can we do this?’ – of course we can. Will we hit exactly 10%? We may miss it slightly or we may exceed it. But is it possible that we can create sufficient evidence of demand that will encourage people to invest and which will get governments to recognise that is this way forward? Absolutely,” he says.

”We have got to be confident. And personally I am more confident every day. When I look at what airlines are committing to SAF, when I look around at what is being invested in terms of infrastructure to build the refineries that will be necessary, we are seeing evidence of it,” he says.