The whole world of international aviation has been waiting for the 41st Assembly of the United Nation’s aviation body ICAO this fall. Starting on Tuesday, the session, held at the ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada, will go on until October 7. Amid global uncertainty and discord, the delegates, under the guidance of Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar, will attempt to unite over a long-term aspirational climate target.

Secretary General confident of presenting a way forward

Following the seizure of foreign-owned airliners by Russia in the wake of sanctions imposed on the country due to the invasion of Ukraine, ICAO finds itself in the territory of a new kind of tension (although it did serve as a back-channel during the Cold War). According to Reuters, Russian officials have urged the assembly to “stop the destructive actions of individual states,” saying the additional carbon emissions from circumventing Russian airspace made climate efforts “pointless.” Salazar stated,

“I am very confident that member states … will come with an open mind to find a common understanding and present a way forward towards aviation and sustainability, which is a central theme in this assembly.”

Governments to answer if failure to reach an agreement, IATA says

Sustainability is indeed at the very top of the agenda for the assembly. A long-term aspirational goal, or LTAG (such as a net-zero emissions by 2050 target), has already been adopted industry-wide through IATA. In June this year, the organization iterated how important it is that governments also get behind this objective through ICAO. Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA, said that stability of policy matters when moving from commitment to action in replacing fossil fuels. He stated,

“I am optimistic that governments will support the industry’s ambition with an agreement on a Long Term Aspirational Goal at the upcoming ICAO Assembly. People want to see aviation decarbonize. They expect the industry and governments to be working together. The industry’s determination to achieve net zero by 2050 is firm. How would governments explain the failure to reach an agreement to their citizens?”

Air Canada plane in retro livery parked at gate at Montreal airport

The ICAO HQ is located in Montreal, Canada. Photo: Getty Images

Six building blocks foundation for LTAG work

Of course, the work on an LTAG does not commence with the opening of the assembly. ICAO’s Council, subsidiary bodies and Secretariat have been working according to six “Building Blocks” to structure and facilitate discussion of LTAG-related topics and develop in-sector scenarios.

These building blocks are:

  1. Scientific understanding, including from other UN bodies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  2. Technical feasibility of LTAG scenarios, focusing on technological assessment and in-sector CO2 emissions reduction scenarios from the ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP).
  3. Level of LTAG ambition, particularly on information sharing and consultative processes, including commitments by industry and other entities.
  4. State action plans and roadmaps, covering the role of these individual national plans, projects and partnerships between States and between States and other international organizations.
  5. Means of implementation, including capacity building, finance, technology transfer, training, national policies, plus specific projects around sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), lower carbon aviation fuels (LCAF), and other cleaner energy technologies.
  6. Means of monitoring progress, comprising the ICAO Stocktaking process, further emissions reduction and cost impact analysis, and additional information from the state action plans, among other activities.

Earlier targets set in 2010

ICAO already has two long-term climate-related goals set at the 37th assembly in 2010 and reiterated at the 40th in 2019 – 2% annual fuel efficiency improvement through 2050 and carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards.

Whether the international community can set its short-term grievances and disaccord aside for the long-term benefit of the planet as a whole remains to be seen. Simple Flying will continue to monitor and report on the progress of the assembly and its discussions.

Source: Reuters, IATA, the Royal Aeronautical Society


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