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The Shift Project and the SUPAERO-DECARBO collective are publishing their new report on the decarbonization of the air sector

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The Shift Project* and the SUPAERO-DECARBO collective** are publishing their new report on the decarbonization of the air sector, “Flying in 2050: what future for aviation in a carbon-constrained world

Using a scenario analysis of airline emission trajectories between now and 2050, this study seeks to shed light on the following questions: what should be done today so we can continue to fly tomorrow in a carbon-constrained world? How can the aviation sector be redirected toward trajectories compatible with our climate challenges and less dependent on fossil fuel supplies?

Olivier Lesbre, President of ISAE-SUPAERO, is pleased with the growing mobilization among engineers and the serious debate on the ecological transition in air transport. Here, he shares his analysis of the situation and confirms the Institute’s total commitment in its activities in favor of progress and innovation:

"The impact of air transport on global warming has been highlighted in the media for several years, often based more on simple ideas or moral convictions than on scientific analyses. In recent months, with the aviation crisis brought on by Covid, the debate on the ecological transition in air transport has intensified and deepened, and a more pragmatic approach has begun to take shape thanks to the growing mobilization on the subject among engineers. ISAE-SUPAERO, as a Grande École in aeronautical engineering, welcomes this development.

The "Flying in 2050" essay is an illustration of this. It was written at the initiative of the SUPAERO-DECARBO collective which, over the last two years, has brought together alumni and students at the Institute working to reduce the aviation sector’s climate impact. It uses the latest scientific knowledge available to make proposals for the future of the air sector that are compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.

As the essay clearly shows, there is a great deal of uncertainty in terms of the forecasts for the evolution of emissions, leading the authors to formulate hypotheses and to identify choices that will be decisive for the future. Two of these particularly deserve discussion:

  • The first deals with the share of “humanity’s carbon budget” that can be dedicated to aviation (or, in other words, to long-distance travel) between 2020 and 2050. This essay decided to take aviation’s share in global emissions as being the same as in 2019, while recognizing that this is an arbitrary choice. It is actually a choice determining the dimensions of this work’s conclusions, and it is political in nature. But most economists consider that is not the best way to reduce emissions globally insofar as, to be effective, we first have to go after the sectors where this reduction is easiest, such as electricity production, which then mechanically leads to allowing the relative share of sectors in where this is more difficult, such as aviation, to increase.
  • The second concerns the rate of technological progress. There is a natural tendency to extrapolate based on the past. But the speed with which the first anti-Covid vaccines were developed has provided a striking demonstration that this rate accelerates sharply when the international community of competent scientists and engineers focuses on an urgent problem. The Institute is hopeful that the same phenomenon is at work for the decarbonization of our societies in general, and notably in air transport. It is resolutely working toward this goal, training engineers capable of guiding the ecological transition in this sector with all its complexity, focusing research activities on this subject and contributing to the public debate.

In conclusion, the Institute welcomes the contribution of certain students and alumni to a well-structured, rational public debate. The points of view expressed are well reasoned but, like all prospective work, are based on hypotheses, some of which are questionable and need to be discussed in further detail. Without a doubt, this work will contribute to making progress in the quality of discussions on the future of air transport!

PS: the Institute has just posted a tool on line that is open to all, enabling you to simulate the climate change impact for the various hypotheses we can formulate for the evolution of aviation. This tool should naturally be of interest to readers of this report and is available at cast.isae-supaero.fr”

Olivier Lesbre
President of ISAE-SUPAERO

*The Shift Project is a think-tank that works to free the economy of carbon constraints.
**ISAE-SUPAERO alumni seeking to contribute to our discussions on aeronautics, aviation and the role of our school and our students in combatting climate change.

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