It is not surprising to know that before the COVID-19 era, the aviation industry, which carried 4.5 billion passengers in 2019, was accountable for 2% of global carbon emissions (this is around 915 million tonnes of CO2), and generated $704.4 billion GDP per year. By 2036, it was forecast that aviation would directly contribute $1.5 trillion to world GDP. However, these were the numbers before Coronavirus spread across the world, halting all but essential international flights. As an example, within just a few weeks between January and February, the number of daily departures and arrivals for domestic and international flights dropped to just 2,004, from 15,072. 

But coming back to carbon emissions, around 3 years ago, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN agency, agreed to curb aviation’s’ greenhouse gas pollution. The deal aimed to involve airlines in offsetting schemes, including forest areas and other carbon-offsetting activities, which accounted for 2% of the industry’s annual revenues. Global aviation emissions in 2020 were going to be used as a benchmark.

Moreover, earlier this year, the UK aviation sector committed to making flying “net zero” by 2050, wiping out its carbon emissions despite taking more than 100 million extra passengers into the air each year.

All these commitments and pledges were negatively impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated $63 billion in losses. This issue has resulted in government bailouts, as in the USA, airlines and airports got around $50 billion worth of loans and grants, along with a tax break that also extends to private jets. However, many organisations and climate advocates believe that airlines are using this current crisis to roll back environmental taxes and adjust their previous pledges while receiving public support without any undertaking to reduce emissions.

Since the previous pledges were aiming to use 2020 as a baseline, and currently most of the flights are cancelled, IATA has stated that the baseline must be adjusted to avoid economic burden on the sector, and if not amended, many airlines might pull out

The next few months will be critical to ensure an agreement between governments, organisations, and the aviation industry that provides not only support in the short term but also considers a long-term view in respect of carbon emissions and net-zero pledges.

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