The Future of AviationCO2 emissions from aviation are one of the main obstacles. After a brief but significant reduction during the pandemic, emission levels have been rebounding exponentially and will soon surpass the high levels recorded prior to 2020. If the goal of net zero is to be attained by 2050, the aviation sector must take considerable measures to reduce its carbon footprint.
Green or sustainable aviation takes technological and market-based approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by the sector. Similar to the automotive industry, these measures have the potential to considerably reduce carbon dioxide emissions produced by the transport sector. The strategy to reach net zero is made up of four such components: sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), new aircraft technologies, carbon-offset/capture tactics, and improved infrastructure and operations. Though new aircraft technologies and carbon offsets could help considerably in reaching net zero, the implementation of SAFs is expected to have the greatest impact—contributing almost two-thirds toward the reduction of aviation emissions. SAFs are certified sustainable fuels derived from an alternative feedstock such as cooking oil, municipal waste, or agricultural residue, and can be produced through carbon capturing technologies.
The announced offtake volume for SAFs was more than 21 billion liters in 2022—the highest volume in the last decade and more than double the offtake reported the year prior. This is a promising future for SAF usage, which, coupled with developing technologies such as electric aircraft, hydrogen propulsion engines, and new aerodynamic configurations and materials, lays the path to considerably reducing CO2 emissions from the aviation sector.
Offsetting to Reach the Finish LineEven if these strategies are the way to net zero, the industry needs the help of market-based solutions to reach its goals. Called MBMs (market-based measures), these policy tools are designed to achieve environmental targets and complement technological strategies. Carbon offsetting and emissions trading systems (ETS) are the most relevant MBMs for the aviation industry and have already been put in place or are in the works to be implemented. ETSs work to set a limited number of emissions allowances for airlines which decreases over time, ensuring that absolute reduction will be eventually met.
The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme (CORSIA) is the first global MBM and an effort toward carbon neutrality in aviation beginning in 2020. CORSIA will guarantee that emissions from international aviation do not surpass 2020 levels. To achieve this, operators will be instructed to purchase offset credits to compensate for emissions above the baseline. It is expected that as technology develops, the reliance on carbon offsets in the aviation industry will decrease considerably by 2050.