Europe’s airlines have committed to decarbonising air transport and accelerating their efforts to make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. The reduction of CO2 emissions in absolute terms, and through CO2 mitigation will significantly contribute to achieving the ambitions of the EU Green Deal and the ICAO Long Term Aspirational Goals (LTAG). Accelerating the take-up of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) over the next decade is key to enabling the transition towards a carbon-neutral economy and meeting the sector’s climate objectives.
The European aviation industry was the first in the world to commit to the realisation of a net-zero goal for all departing flights by 2050 through the “Destination 2050 – A route to net zero European aviation” roadmap 1. This will be achieved through a combination of four key pillars including improvements in aircraft and engine technologies, the use of SAF, economic measures and improvements to air traffic management (ATM) and aircraft operations in Europe.
Some regions of the world, like Europe, are expected to decarbonise faster than others. The search for global agreements should not limit, delay or hinder action on all flights in and from Europe today. However, global decarbonisation efforts are urgently needed in parallel to achieve the sector’s global climate goals. Given the international nature of aviation, a robust global framework should be established and implemented to facilitate worldwide progress. It should raise global ambitions as close as possible to those, like the European framework, that are designed to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement such as the European Destination 2050 Roadmap. At the same time, it should preserve a level playing field to protect Europe’s international competitiveness, without disrupting the integrity of the EU internal market.
The upcoming ICAO Conference on Aviation Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3) in November 2023 represents a unique opportunity to unify efforts around ambitious and credible mid-term objectives. This is important in the context of the LTAG and Net Zero 2050 implementation roadmaps. Achieving an ambitious agreement on goals among states, coupled with a ‘toolbox’ of measures, would send a strong signal to the market, emphasising the pivotal role of SAFs. Such a consensus would foster market certainty for financiers and fuel producers, stimulating SAF production, increasing SAF volumes and eventually driving down their price for the benefit of consumers.
ICAO’s role in providing certainty and confidence in the SAF market
The CAAF/3 meeting positions ICAO to demonstrate leadership in facilitating significant increases in SAF production and availability worldwide. Maximising the volumes of SAF available to airlines is key to the rapid decarbonisation of aviation.
More than 40 Airlines worldwide, consuming over 50% of the jet fuel used in 2019, have already initiated actions, pledging to use 10% or more SAF in their fuel mix by 2030. They are doing this either individually or through coalitions or collective initiatives. A total of 50 off-takers (including 37 airlines and fuels brokers/distributors) have accounted for a cumulative volume over 44 Mtons of SAF offtakes since 2016. As per the latest industry forecast, the SAF production planned for 2030 is close to 24 Mtons.
ICAO has projected2 potential global volumes of SAF ranging from 44 to 70 Mtons by 2030 under a medium traffic demand scenario and aligning with the LTAG goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050
According to this analysis, the corresponding CO2 emission reductions resulting from the uptake of SAF and Lower Carbon Aviation Fuel (LCAF), could range from 10% to 17% in 2030.
The international race for SAF leadership has started and EU investors and industrial partners are waiting for a strong policy signal from legislators to unleash their investments.
Establishing a quantified and collective ICAO vision, such as a 4-5% CO2 emission reduction from the use of sustainable aviation fuels by 2030, consistent with the ICAO CAEP projections, anticipated production volumes and the effort level required for LTAG, would represent an ambitious yet realistic goal. Additionally, a separate LCAF emission reduction of 1% in 2030 should be considered.
Securing global political support for a net-zero future in aviation is paramount. Every state should implement policies encouraging SAF development within their territory, thereby contributing to the global objective. ICAO can also facilitate the creation of fair, non-distortive policies to foster SAF uplift, benefitting all operators in a non-discriminatory manner.
ICAO will guide Member States to implement the right policies and take the relevant actions to ensure SAF will be available to the aviation sector while harmonising SAF production and us, allowing consistent results from diverse stakeholders.
The discussion on objectives should include the role of renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs), leveraging emerging Power-to-Liquid technologies and longer-term synergies with the increasing production of green hydrogen.
Feedstock Eligibility and Scarcity
For SAFs to be deemed legitimate, they must be truly sustainable and adhere to stringent sustainability criteria. It is imperative that SAF production does not compromise food supplies for humans and animals or damage the environment through, for example, incentivising deforestation.
ICAO should contribute to the development of a dynamic, harmonised approach towards establishing feedstock sustainability criteria, along with fuel approval and equipment certification schemes that adhere to stringent sustainability criteria. It is essential to anticipate maximum global harmonisation of rules and regulations.
International accounting framework
The development of comprehensive and harmonised guidance for a global accounting framework is essential. Such a simplification of chain of custody would enable airlines pursuing greater CO2 emission reductions to purchase larger quantities of SAF and distribute it optimally across their fleet, whilst at the same time not distorting the European aviation single market due to divergences in GHG schemes or sustainability standards. This mechanism would enhance the competitiveness of the SAF market, leading to better and more affordable SAF options.
1 Destination 2050 – A route to net zero European aviation, A4E, ACI Europe, ASD, ERA, CANSO, February 2021.
2 ICAO LTAG report (https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/LTAG/Pages/LTAG-data-spreadsheet.aspx) – Data for F2 and F3 scenario.