The International Air Transport Association has begun the process of revisiting the aviation industry’s global goals to address its climate impact and will present new targets to the board at its annual general meeting from October 3 to 5 in Boston. The current IATA target calls for a reduction of aviation’s net CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. The group set that target in 2009, when it met with the wider climate goals and emission reduction commitments of the Kyoto Protocol and the Doha amendment, explained IATA director general Willie Walsh. But the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, sets out a more ambitious goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees C, rather than 1.5 degrees C. “We recognize the need to update our target and we intend to do that,” he confirmed.
Reaching climate goals and the issue of the industry’s environmental performance stands at the “top of the agenda,” Walsh stressed, describing as “very encouraging” airlines’ continued investment in technology to address their environmental footprint while focusing on their financial survival. SAF uptake last year increased 55 percent on pre-crisis levels, to 70 million liters, and projections show SAF use will increase another 70 percent, to 120 million liters, in 2021. IATA expects net airline industry losses of $47.7 billion in 2021, compared with a loss of $126.4 billion last year.
Sebastian Mikosz, IATA’s first-ever senior vice president for environment and sustainability, criticized plans by the European Commission to introduce a bloc-wide tax on aviation fuels. “We are very concerned about the EC’s plans,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we are fundamentally opposed against such a tax. Taxation is totally ineffective and inefficient as a means to decarbonize aviation. It does not accelerate the investment in fleet renewal, the use of cleaner technology, or deployment of SAF, and it is always a local instrument while we need a global solution." CORSIA, ICAO’s global offsetting mechanism for international aviation, is such a global scheme, he said.
Already 104 states have committed to the first, voluntary phase of CORSIA, which started this year. “This means that 77 percent of aviation’s CO2 emissions growth above 2019 levels will be offset over the life of the scheme,” according to Mikosz. To support airlines’ obligations under CORSIA, IATA launched an Aviation Carbon Exchange (ACE) in November. Some 1.5 million tonnes of certified and audited carbon credits traded through ACE so far and IATA expects that figure to increase to 2.2 million tonnes by year-end.
On top of the new jet fuel tax for intra-EU flights, Brussels will reveal on July 14 its long-awaited Fit for 55 green policies, including a revision of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) and the implementation of an EU SAF blending mandate. The blending mandate will call for a 2 percent SAF mix with standard fossil kerosene from 2025, raising to 5 percent in 2030 with sub-targets for hydrogen and e-fuels. Cargo flights would be exempt. IATA does not oppose a SAF blending requirement, Mikosz said. “We are for it, on the condition that it is a scheme that gives a global solution.”
Rather than introducing a tax on jet fuel, governments should introduce incentives to ensure the availability and adoption of SAF, Walsh insisted. Hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and hybrid-electric propulsion are promising technologies, but not readily available—certainly not for long-haul flights, which produce the most CO2. He called on oil companies to “step up and do their part” in scaling up SAF production so it becomes more affordable.
Asked by AIN what IATA considers an acceptable price for SAF, Walsh said the cost of the fuel would not need to fall to the same price as fossil kerosene. SAF now costs at least three times more than traditional fuel. “We recognize that SAF may not match exactly the price of kerosene, but kerosene will come with a cost for carbon,” he said. “With SAF, the cost of carbon is significantly reduced,” he said, noting that SAF’s carbon footprint amounts to 70 to 80 percent below that of kerosene. “We will pay the price that is necessary; our future requires us to demonstrate that we have a credible pathway to address our environmental performance. But we will not just write a big check,” he concluded.