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Pre-EAC Webinar: Aviation and Climate Change: Where do things stand in Europe?

The discussion about climate change, and aviation’s contribution to it, is gaining momentum across the industry. Flying less and using alternative transportation options may reduce emissions, but let’s not be delusional: there is no alternative to aviation over large distances. So instead of shaming it, we need to find ways to make it better. And by better, we mean sustainable.

This challenge was discussed at the pre-European Aviation Conference webinar in June by experts from academia and the aviation industry.

The first webinar session gave a synopsis of the main drivers of climate change caused by aviation. It is clear we need to start considering total net radiative forcing and not only direct CO2 warming effects. Non-CO2 effects, such as contrail generation and NOx effects, have the potential to contribute as much and possibly more than direct CO2 to the total net radiative forcing of any given flight. Uncertainty on how to deal with non-CO2 effects has given rise to discussions both within the government sector and the industry. The EAC panel discussed promising ways forward, including a very promising trial of contrail reduction flight level changes being carried out by EUROCONTROL’s Maastricht Upper Area Control (MUAC) in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). There was consensus that contrails can be reduced here and now and that policymakers should move quickly to take action.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) were also discussed. SAFs offer the most promising pathway to the industry’s 2050 net-zero target. Compared with conventional fossil jet fuel combustion on a well to wake basis, SAF combustion produces significantly lower CO2, SOx and soot. Recent studies also indicate SAF has the potential to reduce contrail formation due to this lower soot content. Produced from various feedstocks and depending on which feedstock is used, on a whole life cycle basis, SAF has the potential to reduce CO2-eq /MJ significantly. The problem, however, lies in production. We don’t have enough, and we need even more. To meet a net-zero industry by 2050 as promised, we need to produce in the region of 600Mt per year. The current life cycle cost of energy for SAF compared to fossil jet fuel also represents a significant challenge. The challenges are enormous but not impossible.

The second part of the webinar focused on policies and market-based measures (MBM) introduced worldwide and in Europe to address aviation’s climate change. The global Carbon Off-setting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) aims at offsetting the impact aviation has on climate change by emission reduction projects in other sectors/countries. However, particularly given COVID, it seems to become ever more likely that CORSIA will cover a lot fewer emissions than initially anticipated. On a European level, apart from reducing aeroplane traffic in general, policy options to cover the remaining aviation emissions are currently being discussed. Our focus as aviation stakeholders should be on improving the way we fly, ensuring that air connectivity is preserved to benefit our economies and societies. Political frameworks are required to drive this improvement – ranging from carbon pricing to fair taxation and the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs). Additional funding is necessary, but it is equally essential to ensure targeted allocation of the financial support to guarantee the integrity of the entire supply chain.

Industry sees technological advancements and SAFs as the two biggest contributors to reaching a net-zero aviation industry. If aviation is serious about reducing its climate impact, industries that have never worked together must team up to find solutions that will benefit everyone—spanning from sectors like agriculture and transport to academia, aviation and regulatory bodies. Mandates and other regulations have to be supported by financial assistance in the right areas; to encourage and drive production, not to subsidise ticket prices.

Message from the host:

Join us for the next EAC webinar on the 16th of September, during which the International Transport Forum at the OECD will present its new report “Decarbonising Air Transport: Acting Now for the Future”. The invited experts will focus on the most challenging parts of the chartered way forward and debate how to overcome the outstanding hurdles on the path to the decarbonisation of the aviation sector.

Registration for the European Aviation Conference (EAC) is also open.

Author: Agnes Dauner & Darren Carty from Sustainable Flight Solutions.

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