Sebastian Mikosz, IATA's SVP, Environment and Sustainability, says the pandemic has not diminished the industry’s determination to tackle its environmental responsibilities.

Carriers have purchased record amounts of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) this year, while the retirement of older gas-guzzling airplanes continues apace. The industry has continued to urge states to volunteer for the first phase of CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation). A number of exciting projects on hydrogen and electric aircraft have emerged from both established manufacturers and start-up companies.

IATA is similarly committed to reinforcing its environmental resources and action plan. As part of the management changes instigated by Willie Walsh, for the first time, Environment has been made an independent IATA Division. It is my honor to have been appointed as the Senior Vice President for this new Division. This means that environmental considerations will now be at the heart of the strategic discussions governing everything IATA does. These changes aim to turbo-charge our ability to assist our members in their pathways to sustainability. IATA’s traditional strengths of building industry consensus and awareness, driving global standards, and advocating for smart government policies will be crucial, for we have a huge challenge before us.

Commercial aviation CO2 emissions in 2019, the pre-pandemic peak, were over 900 million tonnes. They fell to a low of less than 500 million in 2020 but if the industry returns to growth as we hope it will do, we are likely to exceed the 2019 peak in 2023. The plain fact is that despite the good environmental work being done, we will be an industry growing its emissions during a period where the expectation is on business to reduce carbon. Aviation relies on jet fuel and zero-emissions flight is not possible in the short term. But we do have options. If we can make our jet fuel sustainably, it opens up a tremendous opportunity. SAF, which can be made from anything from household waste to plants nobody wants to eat, can reduce emissions by 80% on a like for like basis with traditional kerosene. The challenge is to scale up production fast so that we can meet our target to cut emissions to half 2005 levels by 2050.

Building new factories to refine SAF takes time. Investments commenced several years ago are only now coming on stream. These facilities will help to push up production, but we have to push for much more if we are to meet a goal of 5% of commercial jet fuel demand by 2030. The big oil producers must now step forward and support SAF in a substantial way. Political support – using appropriate policies - is also crucial. The European Union is pushing for more SAF use but their choice of policies – mandates and fuel taxes – is not the most efficient option. Direct encouragement to producers (for example through tax breaks, R&D subsidies or public-private partnership) would be more effective. Taxation is particularly impractical. Making flying more expensive is not the answer to accelerating the development of sustainable aviation. Government’s never ring-fence the money for environmental investment, and it hits lower-income travelers the hardest.

With the publication of the latest UN IPCC report into global warming and world’s focus turning to COP26 in Scotland at the end of the year, societies are increasingly looking to businesses and governments to redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses. IATA and its members are committed to meeting that challenge. We hope that we can work with governments for effective policies so that we can ensure we meet our carbon reduction targets and more.


Credit | IATA