Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president of ICAO, discusses how aviation has made significant progress on addressing the environmental impact of the industry, and is working on making further improvements.

In 2013, the 38th ICAO Assembly agreed on a landmark Resolution that demonstrated the determination of ICAO’s Member States to maintain a leading role in all efforts to address the impacts of international aviation on the global climate.

That resolution included a global annual fuel efficiency improvement target of 2% per year, a medium-term global aspirational goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and a further commitment to explore longer-term environmental protection goals for international aviation.

Progress has been made in all of these areas.

In the first case, fuel efficiency for aviation continues to improve. Today’s commercial aircraft are 80% less polluting and 75% quieter than the first passenger

jets, largely as the result of technological innovations, more efficient air navigation management, and refined operational procedures.

The implementation of our Global Air Navigation Plan over the next decade will further enhance these efficiencies, and significant progress has also been reflected by the recommendation for the first ever Global Certification Standard for aircraft carbon dioxide emissions.

These types of technological and operational improvements were specifically highlighted by the 38th Assembly as initiatives which ICAO should pursue as part of a ‘basket of measures’ to limit or reduce CO2 emissions from international civil aviation.

The basket also included the development and deployment of sustainable alternative fuels, and the application of a global, market-based measure (GMBM). ICAO’s work supporting improved global awareness and capacity-building for aviation emissions reduction has also proved very helpful.

It is important that we acknowledge that the aggregate environmental benefits being achieved by non-MBM measures may be insufficient for the sector to reach its aspirational goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020.

The global MBM scheme to be considered by ICAO’s 39th Assembly this September should therefore be appreciated as a cost-effective and complementary means by which international aviation can meet its aspirational goal.  This solution would be far preferable—for governments and carriers alike—to an inefficient patchwork of regional and local measures, which we may be otherwise faced with.

Analysis undertaken through ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) has illustrated that the cost of carbon offsetting for aircraft operators would range from 0.2 to 0.6% of total revenues from international aviation in 2025, and 0.5 to 1.4% in 2035.

It is true that a number of contentious MBM issues remain to be worked out, but I am also very hopeful that the bilateral and multilateral meetings now ongoing will bridge these last hurdles.  I will be convening an informal group meeting in the last week of August to evaluate the results of these latest discussions, and to assist the ICAO Council with its determination of the finalized Assembly proposal.

As always, the international civil aviation community has relied on its historic strengths, cooperation and consensus to reach this point, and we will need to preserve our highest respect for those values in the days and weeks ahead.

The eventual outcome of this process will be critical not only to the sustainability of the air transport sector, but to civil society more broadly and to the future of our planet.