As we head into a new year, the air transport industry and its partners must all focus on technology and sustainable fuels to meet the climate challenge

Imake no apologies for making sustainability once again the subject of my comments for Airlines. As I write this, the world is gathering at COP25 in Madrid. The calls for action are growing stronger, with a new industry—fashion, meat farming, computing—in the firing line every day.

We know aviation is no exception to this scrutiny. Our industry accounts for 2% of global man-made carbon emissions. But the growth in passenger demand, particularly from developing markets, means passengers and policy makers need to be reassured of our commitment to sustainability. That is not in doubt, as the air transport industry has committed to:     

  • improve fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5% annually between 2009 and 2020. We are achieving 2.3%.     
  • carbon-neutral growth from 2020. And the ICAO Assembly confirmed its resolve to make a success of CORSIA—the Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Scheme for International Aviation. It will enable us to work towards capping the growth in CO2 from aviation and generate $40 billion in climate funds.     
  • cut our net emissions to half 2005 levels by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement 2°C goal. Industry experts are collaborating to map out how we can realistically achieve this.

To achieve our 2050 goal will involve a huge energy transition in aviation. For over a hundred years, we have had a fuel that has served aviation reliably and safely. But it is a fossil fuel and its time is coming to an end.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), which have only been in commercial development for a decade, are the answer. They can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by up to 80%. To date, over 215,000 commercial flights have been powered by SAFs. They are a reality. But they are in short supply—serving only 0.1% of aviation’s energy needs. The 14 production facilities under construction now will bring that close to 2% by 2025. It could be a tipping point in aviation’s energy transition, but we need help.

Firstly, from governments. Government incentives should aim to bring down costs while scaling-up production to make sustainable aviation fuels commercially viable.

We also need help from our traditional energy suppliers, as they have the expertise, distribution networks and finances to make a real difference. We are seeing some investments in SAF production, but so far these have been only small steps. This must change, and fast.

These requirements will only gain momentum if passengers can see the value of what we are doing. Transparency on our past and present actions is essential so that people have the facts needed to make the right choices on mobility. I believe that aviation’s track record and targets should reassure our passengers that they can fly proudly and sustainably.

As we move into the New Year, let us remind ourselves that in the climate change battle, carbon is the enemy. And we will defeat it with SAF and other technologies so future generations will live in an even more connected world than we have today.