Decarbonization of air transport: a united front behind the French Presidency of the EU

07 February 2022 Brief
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Toulouse, France | AFP | 04/02/2022
By Lionel Bonaventure / with Tangi Quemener and Mathieu Rabechault in Paris

More than 40 countries, dozens of companies and industrialists: the supporters of the decarbonization of the air sector presented a united front Friday under the aegis of the French presidency of the European Union, in the run-up to crucial deadlines.

In a "Toulouse Declaration" published after two days of meetings in the French capital of aeronautics, headquarters of Airbus, the signatories urged the "whole world" to take measures to achieve an aviation sector that will no longer contribute to global warming by 2050.

To this end, they called on "all partners around the world (to) work together" in preparation for the 41st Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, a UN agency), which will consider this issue in late September. Its decisions are taken by majority vote and are binding.

The Toulouse text has so far been signed by 42 states, including the 27 of the Union but also the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Morocco and Georgia.

Dozens of organizations and companies, including airports, airlines, aircraft manufacturers and energy companies, have also signed this "historic" declaration, revealed the French Minister of Transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

Most of these entities had already supported the principle of carbon neutrality in 2050. But some large emitters such as Russia and China have set a deadline of 2060.

This appeal, which is not binding, is intended to convince other countries at ICAO. Mr. Djebbari had previously mentioned Brazil, India, South Africa and the Middle East.

"The idea is to arrive at the GA of the ICAO as armed as possible to bring everyone on board," pleaded the minister, saying he believes "there is an international consensus that is currently being forged" on the goal of 2050.

To achieve this, the signatories support, among other things, "improved aircraft technology, improved operations, the use of sustainable aviation fuels, market-based measures, carbon pricing, financial incentives and support for environmental and climate innovation in the sector.

- No traffic restrictions -

They also stress "the importance of international cooperation within ICAO to ensure a global level playing field", while airlines are concerned about different constraints in different geographical areas, which may distort competition.

While they say they take "into account the growing expectations of civil society regarding the decarbonization of transport, in particular aviation", the promoters of the declaration do not mention a possible limitation or reduction of air traffic, as demanded by NGOs, nor limits to the criticized use of carbon offset mechanisms.

The aviation sector currently represents nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions. Its contribution to global warming could be greater because of the condensation trails that cause the greenhouse effect, a phenomenon that is still poorly evaluated.

Some 4.5 billion people traveled by air in 2019, before the health crisis that dropped that level to 1.8 billion in 2020 and 2.3 in 2021, according to ICAO.

But Iata, the main representative group of airlines, says the strong growth in air traffic is set to resume to lead to 10 billion travelers in 2050.

Greenpeace has criticized a summit that has "overlooked the essential solution to reduce the sector's emissions now and to a level consistent with the 1.5°C objective (of the Paris Climate Agreement): limiting air traffic".

The NGO also regretted that the signatories had placed "immature technological solutions" at the heart of their strategy.

Mr. Djebbari defended himself from having adopted a "techno-literate approach" but said that "technology in this decarbonization trajectory has a very important role to play", citing in particular the development of hydrogen aircraft.

At the call of a collective "Let's think aeronautics for tomorrow", about twenty people gathered at the end of the morning near the airport of Toulouse-Blagnac to demand in particular "a moratorium on the development of air transport, aeronautical construction and the abandonment of all projects of construction or extension of airports", noted a photographer of the AFP.

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