Europe's aviation sector on Thursday laid out how it could eliminate its net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, a commitment it said would depend on policy support to scale up sustainable fuels and breakthrough technologies.
Airlines hit by the coronavirus travel slump are also facing increased scrutiny from policymakers and the public over their environmental impact, as the European Union seeks to cut its economy-wide net greenhouse gas output to zero by 2050.
A study backed by airlines, airports, plane manufacturers and air navigation providers said the industry can cut its net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 from flights within and departing from the European Economic Area, Britain and Switzerland.
"Whilst we embrace our responsibilities, it's clear we cannot do this alone," said Olivier Jankovec, director general at airports' organisation ACI Europe, which published the report along with Airlines for Europe, manufacturers' grouping ASD, air traffic control body CANSO and regional airline association ERA.
"We need the EU to deliver the policy and regulatory framework that will enable us to deliver net zero," Jankovec said.
By 2050, the groups said European aviation could cut 92% of its emissions and offset the remainder using carbon removal technologies. The sector emitted 192 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019.
The majority of cuts would be made through technologies including hydrogen and hybrid-electric propulsion, plus sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Carbon pricing policies, better air traffic management, and the impact of environmental costs on air travel demand would deliver more modest reductions.
Since key low-carbon technologies are unlikely before 2030, the report said aviation would rely largely on offsets to address its emissions this decade.
The groups called for supportive policies including CO2 pricing and an EU-wide blending obligation for SAF, which today makes up less than 1% of Europe's jet fuel consumption.
The EU is drafting SAF use targets for airlines. On Monday eight EU countries called for a European SAF blending mandate.
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