The CEO of Qatar Airways has described the airline industry’s emissions goals as a “PR exercise,” saying aviation is on track to miss its target to achieve net zero status in 2050.
Akbar Al Baker was speaking to CNN at the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), on the day the group announced a roadmap to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Let us not fool ourselves,” Al Baker told CNN’s Richard Quest. “We will not even reach the targets we have for 2030, I assure you. Because there is not enough raw material to get the volumes of SAF [sustainable aviation fuel].”
IATA has pledged to boost the use of SAF by 2030, with a goal of becoming net zero in 2050.
However, Al Baker insists the industry’s targets are unrealistic, given the current volumes of SAF being produced, and says the airline industry is in denial about the rate of progress.
“What we are trying to do is for a PR exercise saying that it will happen, and it will be done, it will be achieved – but it won’t be able to be achieved,” he told CNN. “And the governments will use this to line their pockets by putting [on] levies.”
Earlier on Monday, IATA Director-General Willie Walsh unveiled a series of steps roadmaps for the industry to achieve the net zero target, saying they showed “a clear direction” for the industry’s efforts to decarbonize.
Currently, SAF production is less than 0.1% of what is needed for aviation to achieve net zero. But Walsh said the trend is positive, pointing to a tripling of production to 300 million liters (9 million gallons) last year. That would need to rise to 450 billion liters (117 billion gallons) in 2050.
“We’re openly acknowledging that this is going to be a huge challenge,” Walsh told Quest as the IATA meeting began on Sunday. “I think it would be wrong for us to try and convince people that this is going to be easy, and it’s going to be cheap — it’s not.”
“But the idea that we can’t do it — no, I don’t accept that.”
Al Baker is one of the longest-serving and most influential executives in the airline industry, and previously served as IATA’s chair. Despite his skepticism on the industry’s current emissions targets, he still believes that net zero is achievable.
“I’m not saying it can’t be done, but to do it in the  time frame, the industry is far behind.”