CHANGE IN ALTITUDE: In post-Paris world, aviation industry seeks sustainable growth


As the full ratification of the Paris Agreement dawns, a sustainable, low-carbon economy is on the horizon. Two of the world’s worst polluters, the United States and China, have ratified the agreement, making a huge step toward achieving a climate secure world. And with India set to ratify the agreement on October 2, the global effort to remain below the 2C degree warming target has gathered unstoppable momentum. 

This marks a turning point in the fight against climate change. On the heels of these developments, the aviation industry does not intend to be left behind. Aviation is a fast-growing industry and accounts for 1.5% of global GHG emissions. According to the IPCC, this number could grow to as high as 15% by 2050 if urgent action isn’t undertaken. It is clear, therefore, that aviation must play a vital role in delivering the promises enshrined in the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030.

To fulfill its role, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has recognised the need to integrate climate change and sustainable development objectives into the core of its business strategy. As a part of this initiative, it is instituting a “basket of measures” that entail a full-spectrum approach to addressing climate change and achieving sustainable growth.

The initiative focuses on developing green aircraft technologies—like better engine performance, aerodynamics improvements, and lighter materials used in the construction of aircraft. It also includes Market-based measures (MBMs), which entail a global mandatory offsetting scheme to ensure that aviation as an industry is financing emission reductions outside of their own business to meet its targets. And it has taken aggressive steps in introducing sustainable alternative fuels for aviation to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These efforts are backed by a monitoring, reporting and verification scheme to ensure its commitments to carbon-neutral growth are met.

A WWF-commissioned report titled "Greener Skies? Report on the supply and sustainability of carbon credits and alternative fuels for aviation" identified high-quality Gold Standard carbon credits as a vital instrument in achieving carbon-neutral growth while supporting the Sustainable Development Goals. 

In its paper to the ICAO assembly on offsets, the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), a network for NGOs dedicated to bringing sustainability issues in aviation to the forefront, identified Gold Standard as a “robust certification scheme for carbon offsets [that] can help ensure consistency of these [carbon offset] measures with sustainable development objectives.”As Gold Standard was founded on the principle that climate change action should include sustainable development at its core to deliver life-changing benefits for all, the shift toward inclusive, holistic climate action is an exciting affirmation of our vision.  

But what excites us the most is that we are passing the threshold in fighting climate change. Planning has given way to action. Aviation still has a long way to go in meeting its targets and many challenges remain—alternative fuels must be sourced sustainably and offsetting strategies must deliver real, verifiable impacts. But the model is being tested and proven at commercial scales. Since 2010, more than 1,500 commercial flights used sustainable fuels. And consumer offsetting for personal travel is readily available; Atmosfair, a Gold Standard partner and project developer focused on sustainability, provides a flight emissions calculator and allows consumers to offset their travel by investing in Gold Standard credits.

It is no longer a stretch to imagine a world where your flight is climate neutral, sourced from sustainable fuels, and plays a role for good in the world by supporting, for instance, clean cookstove projects that improve the health of families and provide quality employment for local communities. That world hasn’t arrived yet, but the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals have given us the roadmap for a low-carbon, resilient economy. It is time to accelerate the pace and take big, ambitious steps.  

Read more on how the aviation industry recognises Gold Standard as a robust certification scheme>>