Much should be changed within the aviation industry when it comes to addressing climate concerns. With more celebrities being scrutinized for their private jet jaunts and the true cost of flying becoming a key topic of conversation when it comes to addressing rampant emissions from the sector, some are looking to the United Nations’ aviation agency—the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)—for guidance. But a new report from the climate think tank InfluenceMap makes it hard to trust that the ICAO’s climate negotiation body, the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), would do the right thing.
According to InfluenceMap, the agency is filled with delegates beholden to fossil fuel companies and the industry itself. From environmentalist delegates being outnumbered by more than seven to one at meetings to the many hoops delegates must jump through to participate in CAEP meetings—including signing NDAs and being okay with media blackouts—it seems the aviation industry is more invested in itself than the future of the planet. Industry groups like the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have fought for and successfully gotten ICAO to prioritize using carbon offsetting schemes that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) doesn’t even believe in.
As far as aviation emission reductions are concerned, that issue is left largely for the ICAO to solve instead of through other U.N. agencies. Unfortunately, the IATA and other groups have consistently fought for less immediate solutions, opting instead to lobby for a 2050 net-zero goal for international aviation without a proper roadmap to follow in order to reach that goal. According to InfluenceMap, its “analysis suggests that the global aviation industry has used its support for net-zero in PR campaigns to help promote ‘sustainable’ flying and at the same time distract attention away from policy efforts that would otherwise reduce in-sector aviation emissions, particularly at national and regional levels.”
That includes the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation found by the IPCC to “at its best” be more of a stopgap as the aviation industry seeks a more eco-friendly solution rather than buying carbon offsets. The policy, which only accounts for carbon dioxide, was adopted in 2016 but remains voluntary until 2027. There has been little in the way of movement when it comes to actually using sustainable fuels, either. InfluenceMap found that just 0.01% of global aviation fuel used in 2019 was sustainable.
A U.S. Energy Department plan released last month showed the Biden administration’s commitment to drastically increasing that number, but the U.S. can only do so much in leading by example. If anything, the InfluenceMap report should be a wake-up call to the U.N. to pursue better accountability from the ICAO as the climate crisis worsens.