Sustainability

COP26 and the aerospace industry, explained

Airbus-COP26

From 31 October to 12 November, the world’s eyes will be on Glasgow for the COP26 climate change summit. Five years after the Paris Agreement, the stakes have never been higher, and the aerospace industry is committed to playing its part by taking urgent climate action. 

 

For nearly three decades, the United Nations has brought together almost every country on Earth for its annual Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change. In October and November 2021, Glasgow will host the 26th conference – an important global milestone that many believe could be one of our last remaining opportunities to take significant action against global warming. 

Indeed, COP26 marks five years since the historic 2015 Paris Agreement. As part of the agreement, 196 signatory countries agreed to work collectively to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide with the overall objective to limit global temperature increase this century to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to 1.5°C. In practice, the Paris Agreement works on a cycle of increasingly ambitious transformation, with each country submitting its own national climate action plan every five years. 

Although specific action is defined by each country, industry has a major role to play in improving resilience to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The aerospace industry, in particular, is setting its sights on actively contributing to the Paris Agreement, notably by leveraging technology innovation to drastically cut its CO₂ emissions over the next three decades.

 

Airbus has already embarked on its decarbonisation journey for its portfolio of products – a crucial step in the company’s purpose to lead the journey towards clean aerospace.

 

Aviation commits to net zero CO2 by 2050

Today, aviation represents between 2% and 3% of global CO₂ emissions. There are no emissions-reduction targets for specific sectors in the Paris Agreement. Instead, the collective goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, research shows that to hit this target, emissions from aviation, like other sectors, must be reduced close to zero and achieve net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050. 

In October 2021, the aviation industry as a whole committed to precisely this target in support of the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal. Not only does this industry-wide commitment target a much more ambitious goal than previous goals, but it also firmly places climate action at the top of the industry’s priorities. New fuels, propulsion technologies and improvements in operations and infrastructure are expected to deliver the majority of reductions, with carbon removal measures capturing the rest. 

To get there, a fundamental transformation of business as usual across the aviation industry – and beyond – is required. Airbus has already embarked on its decarbonisation journey for its portfolio of products – a crucial step in the company’s mission to lead the journey towards clean aerospace. 

 

Leading the journey towards clean aerospace

Airbus fully understands that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of this generation. Rising to this challenge is rooted in the company’s sustainability commitments, which act as a guiding light for all company decision-making. 

Today, climate action at Airbus is focused on the following four key areas:

  • Decarbonisation: In 2020, Airbus announced its ambition to deliver the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035. Collaboration with the entire aviation ecosystem is expected to help deliver on this ambition. In addition, the all-electric CityAirbus NextGen was recently unveiled as a safe, sustainable and fully integrated urban air mobility solution that will lead the way to the decarbonisation of future helicopters.
  • New energies: The transformation of the aerospace industry’s existing energy mix is underway. At Airbus, promoting the increased uptake of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) remains a key priority across all divisions. An A350 operating one engine on 100% SAF took off for the first time in March with the aim to support certification of unblended SAF by 2030. A rescue helicopter also recently flew on SAF for the first time. 
  • Earth-observation satellites: Geospatial data captured by satellites is crucial to understanding more about climate change, from deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to rising sea levels. These satellites deliver a wealth of information that helps scientists and governments make informed decisions. A new biomass satellite, built by Airbus, is providing detailed insight on forests and tropical rainforests, the guardians against climate change.
  • Sustainable space: From climate science to communications infrastructure – a presence in space is hugely valuable to life on Earth. This is why collective action is required to keep space a cleaner, safer environment. Airbus is participating in a consortium aimed at defining a Space Sustainability Rating (SSR), a concept developed by the World Economic Forum to provide a score that represents a mission’s sustainability as it relates to debris mitigation and alignment with international guidelines.