10 March 2022, London: Climate Action 100+, the world’s largest investor engagement initiative on climate change, has today released a report setting out how the aviation industry can align with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero by 2050 or 1.5°C scenario, and the actions investors need to take to accelerate the sector’s transition to net zero.
The initiative’s updated Aviation Sector Strategy report highlights, drawing on IEA analysis, that growth in air travel needs to be curtailed in order to keep the planet on track for no more than 1.5°C of global warming. It also emphasises that a massive, rapid scale-up of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) is essential to decarbonising the aviation sector in line with a 1.5°C future.
The report suggests that we need to see a substantial increase in the usage of SAF between now and 2030 to ensure that the sector aligns with a 1.5°C pathway. In 2020, less than 0.1% of aviation fuel demand was met by SAF, whereas under the IEA’s 1.5°C scenario, 16% of the aviation sector’s energy consumption will need to come from advanced biofuels by 2030, and a further 2% from synthetic fuels.
Alongside the need to ramp up SAF usage to these levels, the IEA’s 1.5°C scenario shows that action also needs to be taken in three priority demand management areas (or areas with the potential for equivalent emissions reductions), which would keep emissions at half of what they would otherwise be by 2050. These are:
- Keeping business travel to 2019 levels
- Capping long-haul flights of more than 6 hours for leisure reasons at 2019 levels
- Shifting demand to high-speed rail infrastructure where possible
A failure to scale up SAF to required levels would mean that even more stringent demand management constraints would be needed for the aviation industry to reach the 1.5°C global climate target. While demand management is likely to be unpopular with the aviation industry, the IEA’s scenario indicates that some curtailment of air traffic growth is the lowest-risk, fastest way for the sector to reach 1.5°C.
Investors have a critical role to play in encouraging and supporting aviation companies to act on climate change. The actions they can take to facilitate the industry’s transition include ensuring that aviation companies set ambitious short, medium and long-term targets for SAF usage and encouraging companies to disclose their expectations around growth in air traffic demand and how these expectations align with their SAF targets.
On the policy front, investors can push aviation companies to disclose how they are lobbying in relation to policies aimed at reducing the sector’s emissions, ensure that companies and their trade associations are not blocking stronger regulatory measures tackling climate change, as well as directly support more decisive climate action policies, such as those promoting SAF scale-up.
In addition, the report highlights the need for aviation companies to shift their focus from carbon offsetting to the reduction of their own emissions. Although carbon offsets are currently widely used in the aviation industry, the IEA’s 1.5°C scenario shows that the aviation sector will need to decarbonise through decreasing its own emissions if it is to align with a 1.5°C world. This means that action must be taken to push companies to set targets for the phasing out of offsets, to ensure that they replace offsetting with efforts to reduce real emissions.
“The report shows the scale of what is needed for the aviation industry’s transition to net zero, and highlights that the sector needs to take strong, decisive action now” explains Ben Pincombe, Head of Stewardship for Climate Change at the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, one of the Climate Action 100+ coordinating investor networks and the organisation leading the Climate Action 100+ Aviation Sector Strategy.
“The industry holds its future in its own hands. As noted in the report, the amount of demand management required depends on the rate and scale of SAF rollout in the short-term, alongside well thought through technology deployment. If the sector fails to respond effectively, it is likely to face significant and rapid regulatory tightening, and ever greater scrutiny and challenge from capital markets.”
About Climate Action 100+
Climate Action 100+ is the world’s largest investor engagement initiative on climate change. It involves more than 615 investors, responsible for over $65 trillion in assets under management. Investor signatories are focused on ensuring 166 of the world’s biggest corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters take the necessary actions to align their business strategies with the goals of the Paris Agreement. This includes improving corporate governance, reducing GHG emissions, and strengthening climate-related financial disclosures.
The 166 companies include the initial 100 ‘systemically important emitters’, identified with the highest combined direct and indirect GHG emissions, and additional companies selected by investors as critical to accelerating the net zero transition.
Launched in 2017, Climate Action 100+ is coordinated by five investor networks: Asia Investor Group on Climate Change (AIGCC); Ceres (Ceres); Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC); Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) and Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). These organisations, along with five investor representatives from AustralianSuper, California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), Gam Investments, Ircantec, and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management form the global Steering Committee for the initiative. Follow us on Twitter: @ActOnClimate100.