IATA and UNEP to Address Key Environmental Challenges in Aviation

In order to address sustainability issues in the aviation sector, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that is in line with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As UNEP leads international efforts to create a legally binding international instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, by the end of 2024, the partnership’s initial focus is on reducing problematic single use plastic products (SUPP) and improving the circularity in the use of plastics by the industry.

Airlines and their customers place a high priority on making airplane cabins more environmentally friendly. However, the uneven and complex regulatory framework frequently presents a challenge by obstructing circular economy best practices. Different rules at each end of a route significantly restrict what airlines can do in the absence of a worldwide strategy.

IATA supports a regulatory environment that is streamlined and harmonized in order to reduce the use of plastic and increase reuse and recycling of cabin waste, including plastics, where necessary. In order to do this, the alliance will intensify IATA’s interaction with UNEP in order to guarantee that aviation’s special challenges and potential are taken into account in the future, legally binding global accord to prevent plastic pollution.

Already, IATA and UNEP are working on joint guidance on Re-thinking Plastics in Aviation. This comprehensive resource will encompass an overview of regulations, guidance on SUPP replacement, and recommended best practices for both industry and regulators.

“World Environment Day reminds us that sustainability is our number one global challenge. Formalizing IATA’s longstanding collaboration with UNEP will help airlines move even faster on improving the sustainability of the aircraft cabin. It’s critical that we achieve a harmonized global regulatory framework to enable airlines to implement more comprehensive and common circular economic solutions in all markets. For example, currently our hands are tied with outdated regulations focused on incineration rather than reuse and recycling. Modernizing that will be a big step forward for sustainability,” said Marie Owens Thomsen, IATA’s SVP Sustainability and Chief Economist.

“UNEP is looking forward to working with IATA, to helping the industry transition to net zero, food waste reduction and moving away from single use and short lived plastic products. The aviation industry can also help by creating the demand for substituting these plastics with materials that do not have a negative and social environmental footprint,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Industry and Economy Division.

Every year, more than 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced, half of which are intended for single-use applications. Only 9% of that gets recycled, and because of the pollution it produces, it is critical that worldwide action be taken.

IATA and UNEP also intend to collaborate on knowledge exchange, networking, and advice in relation to other significant sustainability challenges, such as the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), sustainable finance, climate adaptation, biodiversity preservation, including preventing wildlife trafficking, and sustainable tourism.


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