Civil Aviation’s Global Climate Action Framework

Context of Transport Climate Action

International civil aviation is vital to the modern globalized world, providing important social and economic links across the world. Supporting nearly 60 million jobs, a third of world trade (by value), half of all tourist arrivals and USD $2.4 trillion in global GDP, aviation is also responsible for around 2% of global CO2 emissions. The industry is committed to working to lessen its impact on the climate.

To address the issue of CO2 emissions, the entire aviation industry – airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service providers – came together in 2008 to agree on three global goals for the short, medium and long term, the first set of such goals for any transport mode. It is now working, through collaborative projects and efforts worldwide, to fulfil these goals.


The aviation industry gathered together at the 2008 Global Sustainable Aviation Summit, organised by ATAG, to agree on three global goals:

  • To achieve an average 1.5% annual fleet fuel efficiency improvement from 2009 to 2020 (which is already more than being met);
  • stabilize net aviation CO2 emissions at 2020 levels through carbon-neutral growth; and
  • reduce aviation’s net CO2 emissions to 50% from a baseline of 2005, by 2050.

To achieve this, the industry is approaching the challenge through a four pillar strategy:

  • Technology: new, more efficient, technology is continually being developed, which will result in less fuel burn and lower emissions. The increased uptake of sustainable alternative fuels is also included within this pillar of the strategy.
  • Operations: by making changes to flight operations, including using lighter-weight equipment on board, new ways of landing and taking-off and improved loading of aircraft, operational factors can play a big role in furthering efficiency. Better communication and collaboration between sectors also provides significant environmental savings.
  • Infrastructure: mainly focusing on air traffic management, infrastructure improvements can provide a significant reduction in CO2 generated by aircraft.

Global market-based measure: the industry is pushing hard for the agreement of a global market-based mechanism for aviation emissions at the ICAO General Assembly in 2016.


There has been an impressive level of implementation on the technology, operations and infrastructure pillars of aviation’s climate strategy and the industry is encouraged by progress towards the fourth pillar, the global market-based measure (MBM) for aviation, due to be agreed at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2016.

Each new generation of aircraft and engine is, on average, 20-20% more efficient than the preceding models, representing significant emissions savings. The development and commercialization of sustainable alternative fuels will play a major role in achieving the industry’s goals. These fuels can be up to 80% less carbon intensive over their lifecycle when compared to traditional jet fuel and can be produced from a number of sustainable feedstocks, such as waste, algae or sugarcane. Over 2,000 commercial flights have already been flown using sustainable alternative fuels and it is expected the uptake will increase dramatically in the coming years.

Operational improvements, such as retrofitting wingtip devices to in-service aircraft, which reduce drag and therefore fuel use, and new more efficient navigation technology are being increasingly applied. Additional, smaller scale technological developments, such as electric taxiing systems are also being put in place. These measures ensure the minimum possible amount of fuel is used, cutting CO2 emissions.

Infrastructure, also, plays a key role reducing aviation emissions. More modern air traffic management systems can reduce flying time by setting more efficient routes, cutting down on fuel burn and therefore also reduce CO2 emissions.

The final pillar, a global market-based measure for aviation, is under development at ICAO, the UN specialised aviation agency. Whilst it is a challenging effort, the industry is encouraged by progress and confident that the MBM will be agreed by governments at the ICAO Assembly in 2016, ready to be implemented by 2020. This measure will help stabilize aviation emissions at 2020 levels.

Making progress on each of these pillars of aviation’s shared strategy is not easy, but what is does show is the full commitment of all parts of the sector to work together to achieve these ambitious goals.


Each individual measure implemented by a member of the industry can save many tonnes of CO2. For example, the use of wingtip technology has resulted in a combined saving of 56 million tonnes since the year 2000. The Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, too, has seen contributing airports save 212,460 tonnes of CO2.

More efficient operations do not only provide environmental benefits, but also have a significant business case. Producing sustainable alternative fuels provide an economic benefit by providing livelihoods for people, often in less well-developed countries.

And, overall, the implementation of the industry’s climate action framework will help balance the need to provide the vital social and economic connectivity of the sector with the responsibility to reduce climate impacts.

Potential for scaling up

There is huge potential for scaling up aviation’s climate action plan. The Air Transport Action Group in September 2015 published a report, Aviation Climate Solutions, to help industry partners learn from each other’s climate action successes and replicate and scale-up action all over the world.

Post-2020, when carbon-neutral growth is underway, scaling up the technological, operational and infrastructural will be essential for achieving the third global goal, a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 (using the 2005 level as the baseline).

For the full potential of aviation emissions reduction to be realised, however, it is vital that governments support sectoral efforts. In September 2015, industry leaders signed an open letter to governments, calling for action to help expand the work already underway in the sector. This support must take place through a range of actions: air traffic management investment and reform continued support for research into new technology, operations and sustainable alternative fuels improved intermodal transport planning and the right policy framework to help accelerate the availability of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation. Importantly, the industry also encouraged governments to support the global market-based measure at ICAO.

Selected references 

Aviation Climate Solutions:

Open letter to governments:









Global, Mitigation, Aviation, Technology, Partnerships, Awareness, Policy, Finance


• Air Transport Action Group • Aviation industry partners world-wide.


Calum Smith, Air Transport Action Group –