How the aviation sector is tackling environmental challenges
Explore how the aviation sector tackles environmental challenges with insights from ICAO's latest Environmental Report. Discover achievements, challenges, and future outlooks for sustainable air transport.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations that sets standards and regulations for the safe and sustainable development of international air transport. One of its main objectives is to address the environmental impacts of aviation, such as noise, air quality, and climate change.
Every three years, ICAO publishes an Environmental Report that showcases the progress made by the aviation sector in reducing its environmental footprint and enhancing its environmental performance. The latest edition of the report, released in September 2022, covers the period from 2019 to 2021, which was marked by the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences for the aviation industry and the environment.
The report highlighted the following key achievements and challenges:
- The aviation sector demonstrated its resilience and commitment to environmental sustainability, despite the severe economic and operational impacts of the pandemic. The sector continued to invest in green technologies, fuels, and practices, as well as to implement the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which is the first global market-based measure for any sector.
- The aviation sector faced significant challenges in maintaining its environmental goals and targets, due to the uncertainty and volatility of the demand and supply of air transport, as well as the reduced availability of financial and human resources. The sector also experienced some environmental trade-offs, such as increased emissions intensity and noise exposure, due to the lower load factors and operational efficiency of flights.
- The aviation sector recognised the need to build back better, by aligning its recovery plans with the principles of the green economy and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The sector has also engaged in various dialogues and partnerships with governments, civil society, and other stakeholders, to ensure a coordinated and coherent approach to the environmental challenges and opportunities of aviation.
The report also provides an outlook for the future of aviation and the environment, based on the latest trends and scenarios. The report identifies the following key drivers and enablers for the environmental performance of the sector:
- The advancement of innovation and technology, such as electric and hybrid propulsion, hydrogen fuel cells, and digitalisation, which can offer new solutions and opportunities for reducing the environmental impacts of aviation and enhancing its efficiency and resilience.
- The development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), which can significantly reduce the life cycle emissions of aviation and diversify its energy sources. The report showcases the progress made by the sector in increasing the production and use of SAFs, as well as the challenges and barriers that need to be overcome, such as the cost, availability, and certification of SAFs.
- The implementation and improvement of operational and market-based measures, such as CORSIA, which can complement the technological and fuel-based measures and provide incentives and flexibility for the sector to achieve its environmental goals and targets.
- The enhancement of environmental awareness and education, which can foster a culture of environmental responsibility and stewardship among the aviation stakeholders and the general public. The report also emphasises the role of the youth, who can bring new perspectives and ideas to the environmental challenges and opportunities of aviation, as well as the potential of the sector to inspire and empower the youth to pursue careers and studies in aviation and related fields.