World Economic Forum report identifies biofuels as the 'game changer' to achieve aviation emissions targets
IATA chief Giovanni Bisignani at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2011 held recently in Cape Town
Mon 23 May 2011 – An aviation sustainability report from the World Economic Forum finds that achieving the industry’s target of halving its carbon emissions by 2050 will be a significant challenge given an 85 per cent CO2 emissions reduction gap. This is despite a significant and continuous $6 trillion investment by airlines in newer and more fuel-efficient aircraft expected during the timeframe. The report identifies four key levers to reduce aviation carbon emissions: improving aviation infrastructure, increasing aircraft R&D, accelerating scale-up of aviation biofuels and implementing market-based measures. It says biofuels could help bypass long aircraft lifetimes that limit the CO2 efficiency improvement potential of other technological innovations but 13.6 million barrels of sustainable second generation biofuels with significantly lower lifecycle CO2 emissions would be required daily by 2050 to meet the target.
The report says it is unlikely that governments will be able to provide all the necessary funds for the implementation of the necessary technological and infrastructure improvements and it will require the involvement of capital markets, private equity and, for developing countries, the multilateral development banks to fill in the financial gaps.
According to analysis by World Economic Forum and its partner on the report, Booz & Company, demand for passenger and cargo is projected to grow by 4.5% per year, from 540 billion revenue tonne kilometres in 2010 to 3,000 billion in 2050. Carbon emissions are forecast to increase at a slower annual average rate of 3% a year, from 630 million tonnes in 2010 to around 2,000 million tonnes in 2050, assuming industry fleet improvements take place to replace old aircraft and cover demand growth with newer more fuel and CO2 efficient aircraft. As such, the gap between the 2 billion tonnes base case and the industry target of 330 million tonnes in 2050 would equal almost three times today’s total aviation CO2 emissions.
“Significant leadership opportunities need to be taken by the industry to ensure it can grow and still reach its CO2 targets,” says the report.
It advises the industry to inform and educate policy-makers on the criticality and urgency of implementing aviation infrastructure improvements such as the US NextGen and the Single European Sky air traffic management projects. Industry should also work with policy-makers to develop financial and legal incentives to increase investment into incremental R&D for radical new aircraft technologies and to drive vertical partnerships with stakeholders along the entire biofuel value chain.
It also calls for industry to actively engage and support governments working with ICAO in the development of a global sectoral approach on market-based measures for aviation through partnerships with experts from the carbon finance community, and ensure that any measures that are developed focus on incentivising the parties best placed to make the CO2 abatement investment.
Positive fiscal incentives are seen as having the most potential to increase investment in reducing carbon by the aviation industry. Given that the report had a considerable input from airline and aviation interests, it unsurprisingly rejects green taxes and levies that are currently being implemented or discussed in different countries. It cautions that “taxes usually result in a net outflow of funds from the industry that inhibits investment in CO2 reduction projects.”
The report argues that only a limited indirect effect on emissions reduction is likely to occur with such measures through the cost increase of air travel if carriers pass costs on to customers and the resulting likely slight decrease in air traffic. “In addition, the potential macroeconomic effect of more expensive and thus reduced air travel on GDP and economic development must be considered,” it says, adding that aviation is an important enabler for the trade of goods, tourism, services and the socioeconomic development of nations.
The daily requirement for 13.6 million barrels of jet biofuel by 2050 to meet the industry target would represent a shift to 90% sustainable biofuels in 2050, estimates the report’s researchers. Jürgen Ringbeck, Senior VP and aviation expert at Booz & Company, said the biggest challenge would be in building up the supply of sustainable biofuels and promoting their prioritisation for use in the aviation sector.
“The sector’s move to biofuels requires significant investments to achieve a quantum leap in technology and increase production,” he said. “The necessary market dynamics will only develop if governments set the right incentives for the agricultural sector, energy producers and the airlines to incubate a global aviation biofuel production system. Due to the early stage of development and high risks involved with aviation biofuels, a new innovative approach of all involved stakeholders is required.”
The Geneva-based World Economic Forum said it hopes the report will lead industry and government stakeholders to engage in a wider discussion among themselves and with non-governmental communities to “build a practical enabling environment that should be conducive to catalysing a step change in private sector action to decrease aviation CO2 emissions, develop and deploy revolutionary existing and new technologies, and provide sustainable investment choices at scale and speed.”
The report is the outcome of a year-long collaboration among leaders in the aviation, energy and financial services industries, governments, universities and international organisations.