This week’s Aviation Carbon event in London provided industry stakeholders with an early opportunity to reflect on ICAO’s recent agreement on a long-term aspirational goal (LTAG) for aviation.

On a positive note, there was relief that a deal had been achieved and a consensus that the LTAG is a good thing for commercial aviation, in that it aligns governments with industry-level commitments to reach net-zero CO2 by 2050. But there were concerns about the detail and a sense that the difficult work lies ahead.


Source: ICAO

Fundamentally, the agreement is important, explains Haldane Dodd, the executive director of industry body Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), for three reasons: it creates a stable global policy environment, it ensures governments have responsibility for the net-zero vision and it gives long-term reassurance to investors.

The agreement also means governments “now have an obligation to monitor [their progress against the goal],” says Victor Aguado, a permanent representative of Spain on the ICAO council.

It is a “remarkable achievement”, Aguado adds.

But there were compromises.

Tim Johnson, director of UK-based NGO the Aviation Environment Federation, cites the “sense of common direction” created by the agreement but laments the lack of a “trajectory” for the years leading to 2050.

His body wanted “interim pathways” and a greater focus on non-CO2 impacts.

Furthermore, Dodd notes that there is “no obligation on individual states” regarding the 2050 timeline.

The agreement “understands different speeds of ambition” among countries, he explains, particularly given some developing economies have committed to reaching net-zero CO2 emissions post-2050.

“We can’t expect all states to get to net-zero by 2050,” he insists.

Within that context, Aguado says that the agreement reflects concerns about creating “winners and losers” – specifically, that “the Western world would be winning and others would be losing” because economic growth programmes would be “hampered” by net-zero targets. 

Still, Aguado predicts that many developing countries with reservations “will come closer and closer to the overall exercise”, given time. And in the case of China, reservations about the LTAG reflect “a philosophical difference” rather than an aversion to the end result, Dodd suggests.

“It was a compromise, a starting point,” Johnson says. “The hard work starts now.”

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