A United Nations The body agreed to a long-term desired goal for net-zero aviation by 2050, despite challenges from China and Russia as the countries overwhelmingly stick with airlines amid pressure to curb pollution from flights.
Nevertheless, environmentalists criticized the non-binding nature of the treaty as toothless.
The decision, described as a compromise by a number of European countries that wanted a more ambitious target, was applauded by members of the 193-nation assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is held every three years.
China with the support of Russia and Eritreaquestioned the feasibility of the target without further evidence and argued that developed countries should provide financial support to developing countries that are still developing their aviation markets.
ICAO’s preparatory meeting in July laid the groundwork for the optional target after years of negotiations.
Airlines last year adopted a goal of zero emissions by 2050 in a de facto dress rehearsal that drew reservations from Chinese carriers, reflecting Beijing’s more cautious stance on multilateral action.
Airlines have pushed for global action to avoid countries imposing different rules and fees to curb emissions.
“While the agreement is not perfect, it builds on the significant progress we have made over the past decades and prevents a variety of global measures,” said Airlines for America, a trade group for US airlines.
The assembly also approved changes to the baseline for ICAO’s main aviation emissions treaty, known as Corsia.
ICAO cannot impose rules, but its decisions influence national policies. Officials hope the global goal, set through ICAO, will go beyond industry announcements to increase supplies of new sustainable aviation fuels and encourage private investment.
“Politicians need to send a demand signal,” said Nancy Young, director of sustainability at Alder Fuels, a clean fuel company.
Countries and regions are taking steps to increase sustainable fuel use, and Europe is calling for clean fuel mandates as part of its Fit for 55 package.
Dan Rutherford, aviation director of the US-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), said wealthier countries will especially need to curb their emissions as developing countries are still growing in their markets. “To create space for poorer countries to develop their aviation sector, richer countries will need to reach peak emissions even faster,” he said.
Still, aviation is expected to remain the focus of climate groups, who see the exercise as a smokescreen.
Joe Darden, director of aviation at the Brussels Transport and Environment Group, said a target was better than no target, but condemned the lack of a plan to reach the target. “It’s a goal without teeth,” she said.
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