Members Views: Aviation and Shipping in a Zero-Emissions World

3rd November 2019


Members Views: Aviation and Shipping in a Zero-Emissions World

AUTHORS: Francisco Imperatore, FEL 100 for Argentina, Malin Strand, Fossil Free Sweden, FEL-100 for Sweden

The aviation and shipping industries and regulators are discussing their own path to a zero-carbon emissions future.

A recent article published in this tribune by Malin Strand of Fossil Free Sweden, explained how industrial sectors in Sweden are committing to bottom-up roadmaps towards decarbonization. Aviation and Shipping’s own exercises are at global scale, as an overwhelming majority of these two industries related emissions takes place during international transport of passengers and goods.

The two industries jointly represent over 10% of global oil use. In particular Aviation’s energy consumption is projected to grow 3% p.a. until 2040 according to the International Energy Agency.


Let’s start by stating the obvious: there is a specific technological challenge in supplying an airplane’s or ship’s energy needs as there is no refueling opportunity in the middle of the journey.

A second challenge also related to economics is the retirement age of the units. The average age when a plane is discarded is 25 years, thus all things equal, airplanes sold today would still be flying by 2045. In addition, the uptake of any new low carbon technology in this scene will require several years of development and certification.

The third aspect that sets the playing field is that international aviation and shipping are regulated on a global scale by United Nations (UN) agencies: the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Marine Organization (IMO).


ICAO´s mandate is to support environmentally responsible civil aviation sector. IMO has a specific mandate to prevent marine pollution. They are thus the most relevant platforms for the discussion on these two industries’ commitments to low carbon energy.

The most recent evidence of their enforcement capabilities is IMO’s regulation on sulfur content of marine fuels, which limits the sulfur content to 0.5% from previous 3.5% starting January 2020. This will slash shipping’s contribution to global sulfur emissions, today close to a 70% share.


Aviation: ICAO (2018):

  1. Global market-based mechanism to avoid and offset the growth in CO2 emissions above 2020 levels-
  2.  Requires airlines to avoid emissions via efficiency, technology and alternative fuels.
  3. Mandatory phase: from 2027 onwards.

Shipping: IMO (2018):

  1. Green-house gas emissions from international shipping to peak as soon as possible and decline by at least 50% by 2050 whilst pursuing efforts towards phasing them out
  2. Implementation of further phases of energy efficiency measures
  3. Carbon intensity of international shipping to decline by at least 40% by 2030, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050


Complementary to the regulators, the trade associations that represent airlines and shipowners have also addressed their own responsibility on climate change. 

In 2008, several years ahead of ICAOs ruling, aviation leaders from airlines, airports, air navigation, and manufacturers signed a declaration committing to a four-pillar plan for carbon reduction: Investments in technology (e.g. sustainable fuels), continuous operational improvements, better use of infrastructure, and, a single global market-based measure

On the shipping side, the International Chamber of Shipping hasn’t set a specific commitment on its own but supports IMO in their rulings and recognizes that IMO has considered the legitimate concerns of emerging economies regarding potential impacts on maritime trade and their economic development. Particularly, it declares it is "… deeply skeptical of Market Based Measures as a means of further incentivizing CO2 reduction." 


UN bodies are addressing carbon emissions regulation in Aviation and Shipping: ICAO and IMO have sanctioned mandatory regulation for all countries, while they show a track record of enforcement. IMO's commitments are stronger than ICAO's, yet both haven’t committed to making their individual industry contribution to meet the 1.5ºC target.

The trade associations despite their concerns on potential higher energy and logistics costs have remained pragmatic and collaborative. Focus is on global measures that would not hamper the relative competitiveness of industry players.

We choose to see the glass half full: Shipping is committing far more than many countries for their transport sectors, and Aviation is pursuing a way to find a carbon neutral growth path. The big uncertainty - and business opportunity - is on the technologies that will support these industries' transition into a zero net emissions future.

Efficiency, better use of existing infrastructure, and offsetting will not suffice. Enabling technologies are key and may include Biofuels, Electrification, Power to X, Hydrogen, among others. As technologies develop, we may find that so do Aviation & Shipping commitments to zero carbon energy. Stay tuned to this tribune as more market analysts and industry specialists begin commenting on the first applications of those technologies.

About this article:

Jointly with six other colleagues in the Future Energy Leaders(FEL) 100 program, the authors - Malin Strand and Francisco Imperatore, are conducting the project Industry and Transport Transitions (ITT).This article is part of the FEL 100 project Industry and Transport Transition (ITT).

The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the Authors and do not necessarily represent those of the companies and organizations in which each of them works.

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