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Commission weighs to introduce sustainable fuel quotas to tackle aviation emissions

The Commission launched a public consultation on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation sector. The EU executive body is currently assessing different policy options to boost the development and uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, including imposing a minimum share of sustainable aviation fuels on airlines’ fuel consumption.

“To achieve the targets of the European Green Deal, the transport sector will need to reduce its emissions by 90 per cent. All transport modes are expected to contribute, including aviation,” said Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean.

„In the past months, the aviation sector has been heavily hit by the coronavirus pandemic,” Ms Vălean pointed out. “The objective of our ReFuelEU Aviation initiative is to use the recovery as an opportunity for aviation to become greener and help to reach the EU’s climate targets by boosting the largely untapped potential of sustainable aviation fuels.”

The ReFuelEU Aviation initiative was announced as part of the European Green Deal in December 2019 and will be part of the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy scheduled for adoption before the end of 2020.

The European air transport sector has known sustained growth since the early 1990s, with an associated doubling of its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2017. In addition, commercial air traffic is expected to grow in the years to come and the number of flights could increase by around 42 per cent from 2017 to 2040.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), which are advanced biofuels and electro-fuels have the potential to significantly reduce aircraft emissions (emission savings can go up to 80 per cent compared to conventional jet fuel). However, this potential is largely untapped as such fuels represent only 0.05 per cent of total jet fuel consumption.

The Commission notes that the production cost of SAFs is currently at least twice as high as that of conventional jet fuel and higher than that of sustainable alternative fuels used in other transport modes, depending on the pathway. Because of higher production costs, SAFs are, in absence of support, not an economically attractive substitute to conventional jet fuel.

To ramp up the use of sustainable aviation fuels and curb substantially emissions from the air transport sector the Commission considers several policy options including a so-called SAFs blending mandate, that would set out a minimum share of SAF to be supplied by airlines, this share would gradually increase over time.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme already contains mechanisms intended to reward emission reductions including via the use of sustainable aviation fuels. However, their impact appears to be so far limited and may, therefore, it might also need to be reviewed.

The Commission considers introducing European tenders for sustainable fuels production, as such schemes have been used in the field of renewable electricity and channelling funds through one or more EU financial instruments to encourage the deployment of SAF production facilities in the EU.

Low-carbon fuels have a strategic role to play in the transition to a climate-neutral economy by 2050, in particular in sectors such as aviation, where no equivalent technological alternatives currently exist.

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