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Photo: Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images.

The Transportation Department is unveiling a multi-agency roadmap to slash greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. aviation sector with a target of reaching net-zero by 2050.

Why it matters: Aviation accounts for around 3% of global carbon emissions, but has other warming impacts too. It accounts for 11% of U.S. transportation-related emissions, according to the White House.

  • Those emissions are projected to rise a lot in coming decades alongside the growth of air travel, absent aggressive adoption of climate-friendly tech.
  • In a hypothetical case of technology frozen in place, the strategy estimates that U.S. aviation emissions in 2050 would be around twice their 2019 levels.

Driving the news: The department just released its first "Aviation Climate Action Plan" that aims to further R&D and deployment of technologies that attack the problem in a suite of ways.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is discussing the plan at appearances at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

  • A very big part of the plan seeks to help spur development and uptake of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) for long-haul flights, as well as battery and hydrogen propulsion on shorter routes. SAFs do the heaviest lifting in the department's pathway to net-zero by midcentury.
  • Another goal is to help speed efficiency gains, with a target to "demonstrate a suite of aircraft technologies by 2030 to achieve a 30% improvement" relative to today's best tech.
  • While burning jet fuel comprises the vast majority of the sector's emissions, airports generate CO2 through ground operations, which is also a focus of the plan.

Of note: The net-zero target covers emissions from flights within the U.S. and its territories, as well as U.S.-based airlines' international flights.

The intrigue: Beyond CO2, the plan aims to get a better handle on other warming impacts of flying like "aviation induced cloudiness," or AIC, which includes contrails.

  • "Recent estimates indicate that the AIC warming effect could be comparable or even higher than those due to aviation CO2 although large uncertainties still remain," it states.

What we're watching: The Transportation Department is already using existing tools, such as providing over $300 million in funding this year to help electrify airport equipment.

  • The administration's multi-agency "sustainable aviation fuel grand challenge" program launched last month.
  • A separate effort is the joint NASA-Federal Aviation Administration "Sustainable Flight National Partnership" launched earlier this year to demonstrate new technologies in areas like electric propulsion, high efficiency designs and more.
  • The newly enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill has at least $100 million for projects to cut airport emissions, the department said.

The bottom line: More help from Congress is also likely needed to help put U.S. aviation on anything resembling the pathway envisioned in the report.

  • The Democrats' big spending and tax package includes new tax credits for SAFs, but the future of that package remains unclear.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Dec 2, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Report: Markets like carbon-cutting firms

Expand chart
Data: Lazard Climate Center; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Analysis of companies' market performance shows a relationship between emissions-cutting and higher share prices relative to earnings, a metric of investor confidence.

Driving the news: Lazard, a financial advisory firm, explored the equity values and emissions of over 16,000 companies in 2016-2020.

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army Generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that top Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.