News and media

Exploring the four-pillars of sustainability

1 minute read

Here we take a look at the four-pillars of sustainability in aviation

Aviation connects 100s of countries across the globe, and with the aviation sector directly employing around 11.3 million people worldwide. It is one of the world's great connectors of people, enabling a vast amount of trade and tourism. It enhances the prosperity of communities it serves and provides jobs, economic growth and opportunities. However, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation now make up around 2.5% of global CO₂ emissions.

Aviation's current carbon emissions targets

In 2009, at the instigation of IATA and under the backing of ICAO, aviation established an ambitious set of targets to limit and reduce the industry's impact on climate change through carbon dioxide emissions.

The three targets were: an average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% pa from 2009 to 2020; a cap on net aviation CO₂ emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth); and a 50% reduction in net aviation CO₂ emissions by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.

A four-pillar strategy

In order to achieve these targets, IATA devised its so-called four-pillar strategy. This calls for four ways to control and reduce carbon emissions:

  • Improved technology:
    This includes propulsion technology, both in terms of engine design, developments in aerodynamics and sustainable fuels.
  • Aircraft operations:
    Greater efficiency in the operation of aircraft can make a contribution to reduced fuel burn and emissions.
  • Infrastructure:
    This includes infrastructure in the air (improved air traffic management systems) and on the ground (airport infrastructure improvements to reduce congestion). IATA estimates that airport and airspace infrastructure inefficiencies waste around 5% of fuel burn each year.
  • A global market-based (or economic) measure:
    This means a single, globally agreed, economic mechanism that uses market structures to implement an overall emissions cap. This will be needed to fill the gap in emissions reduction left by the first three pillars. The three main types of measure are levies, emissions trading and carbon offset schemes.


Since the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 more pressure has been applied to the aviation sector to reduce its impact. One such scheme is CORSIA. The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation is a carbon offset and carbon reduction scheme to lower CO2 emissions for international flights, to curb the aviation impact on climate change.

Developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and adopted in October 2016. Its goal was to have carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards. CORSIA uses market-based environmental policy instruments to offset CO2 emissions: aircraft operators have to purchase carbon credits from the carbon market. Starting in 2021, the scheme is voluntary for all countries until 2027.

It’s all about technology!

Technological improvements include adopting the latest and most fuel-efficient aircraft, retrofitting existing aircraft and retiring older aircraft early will help.

A number of ongoing projects in electric or hybrid-electric aircraft technology have been identified globally – most of these target a service entry date between 2020 and 2030, and some are already commercially available!

Aircraft could also be powered by hydrogen, either from direct combustion (hydrogen turbine) or via a fuel cell. Hydrogen emits no CO₂ during the combustion process and allows for significant reduction of other elements that drive global warming, such as soot, nitrogen oxides, and high-altitude water vapour.

How do we fit it?

We’re on a mission to make travelling with baggage better for our planet. We all dream of leaving footprints in the sand on picturesque beaches, but that doesn’t have to apply to our carbon footprint. Travelling with baggage has a surprising impact on the environment and we’re here to help change that.

Back to news and insights

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Please let us know your preferences.

Please read our Cookie policy.