In early February 2022, the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union organized a high-level Summit in Toulouse, France, with the future of European aviation and in particular its decarbonization as the centerpiece of the agenda. The hybrid event gathered representatives of the European Union (EU) Institutions, EU Member States, other (European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) States, and like-minded countries and the industry. The Summit culminated in a landmark initiative, the so-called Toulouse Declaration.
This Declaration is the first-ever public-private initiative setting out a joint vision and commitment in support of aviation’s goal to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050. On the side of the industry, at a regional level this goal was first outlined in the Destination 2050 roadmap developed by the five key European aviation associations: ACI EUROPE, Airlines For Europe (A4E), Europe’s Regional Airlines Association (ERA), Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) and Aerospace and Defense Industries (ASD).
The Toulouse Declaration is also the first joint initiative of its kind globally, aligning all stakeholders on the principles and actions needed to decarbonize and transform the aviation sector. It is a true breakthrough in the type of collaboration that will be needed between industry and regulators to reach the ACI Long-Term Carbon Goal—ACI member airports’ commitment to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.
While originating in the EU, the Declaration has received endorsements from countries outside of the Union, and even going beyond the ECAC zone. In total, 35 European countries came forward in support of the Declaration, joined by a number of trailblazers in other regions of the world, including the USA, Canada, Morocco, and Japan. This enthusiastic response confirms the historic character of this initiative and its potential to spur action on the global level.
Coming just a few months ahead of the 41st triannual ICAO Assembly, the Declaration also fires the starting pistol in the race to ramp up ambition ahead of the negotiations on a global long-term climate target for aviation. Indeed, the Declaration openly calls on all partners worldwide to work together towards the adoption by ICAO of an ambitious Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) for international aviation of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050—fully aligned with the Paris Agreement. It thus includes a standing invitation to other countries and international organizations to join the effort and together work to rid global aviation of carbon.
In addition to endorsements from national Governments, the Toulouse Declaration has also been open to signatures from individual industry stakeholders—an opportunity the airport sector has fully embraced. Accordingly, the Declaration has been endorsed by ACI EUROPE, both as part of the Destination 2050 partnership and as the voice of the European airport industry, as well as by its members in record numbers—both European airport operators and national airport associations. In doing so, ACI EUROPE and its members have also reconfirmed their objective of reaching net zero CO2 emissions for airport operations by 2050 at the latest, which was first set out in June 2019 in the ACI EUROPE Resolution committing European airports to this ambitious goal. At the time of writing, over 300 airports across Europe have come out in support of the Toulouse Declaration.
There’s a rich heritage here: airports have long been first movers in leading the challenge of decarbonizing aviation. With more than 200 European airports now certified under the Airport Carbon Accreditation program, and close to 400 airports globally, the airport industry’s work to eliminate carbon emissions continues to make tangible progress. This is well documented in the program’s latest annual report, which was recently published.
The Destination 2050 partners made their expectations clear upon the adoption of the Toulouse Declaration. It now needs to be translated into a structured dialogue at EU level between policy makers and industry to ensure continuous alignment between key regulatory initiatives such as the European Commission’s Fit for 55 package and the industry’s own efforts and progress. This is about ensuring predictability and complementarity—and also looking at much needed financial support and incentives.
Together with ACI EUROPE, the Destination 2050 partners are now calling on the European Commission and EU Member States to develop and support—as a next step—an EU Pact for Aviation Decarbonization. This Pact should set up the platform and mechanisms for the above-mentioned structured dialogue we all need, going beyond the usual engagement and cooperation afforded by conventional EU policy and legislative processes. This should enable a truly holistic and joined-up approach between regulations, research, industrial alliances, and financial frameworks at both EU and national levels.
We can be under no illusion that with the climate emergency, the stakes for mankind have never been higher. What we are looking at, is for aviation not to be part of the problem, but to be part of the solution. From that perspective, there is no doubt that the Toulouse Declaration is a step in the right direction, with much more to be done.