Sustainable aviation fuels incentive under new EU renewable energy directive not enough, says IATA
Tue 19 June 2018 – The EU Council, European Parliament and European Commission have agreed a new post-2020 regulatory framework that includes an EU-wide binding renewable energy target for 2030 of 32% with a 14% for transport energy. The current Renewable Energy Directive (RED I) sets a 2020 target for 20% consumption but more ambition is required if climate commitments to the Paris Agreement targets are to be met, says the Commission. The new directive, RED II, includes reference to a contribution of aviation and marine fuels from renewable sources towards meeting the target, and aims to provide an added incentive for the supply of sustainable aviation fuels in the EU. However, IATA has expressed disappointment that the incentive does not go far enough.
One of the main thrusts of RED II is the phasing out of conventional food crop-based biofuels because of concerns over Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) and a cap on their use is to be introduced starting at 7% in 2021 and progressively going down to 3.8% in 2030.
By contrast, feedstocks that have low ILUC impacts when used for biofuels should be promoted for their contribution to the decarbonisation of the economy, argues the Commission, especially feedstocks for advanced biofuels, for which technology is more innovative and less mature and therefore needs a higher level of support.
The RED revision therefore introduces an obligation on transport fuel suppliers to provide an increasing share of advanced biofuels. In order to give preference to their deployment, the contribution of advanced fuels supplied in the aviation and maritime sectors are to be considered 1.2 times their energy content. From 2021, advanced biofuels should also emit at least 70% fewer GHG emissions than fossil fuel alternatives.
However, said IATA, the multiplier does not go high enough and a major opportunity had been lost to create a regulatory framework to encourage the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).
“On behalf of its 290 global airline members, IATA is disappointed in the outcome of the RED II trilogue,” said the association’s Regional VP for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman. “The aviation industry has committed to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and to cut CO2 emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050. But we need government support to bring sufficient quantities of SAF, at an affordable price, to market.”
An IATA spokesman told GreenAir: “We have been arguing for some time that the 1.2 multiplier should be increased, with 2 our preferred metric. But the important issue was to create a differential from maritime sustainable fuels, which are much easier to produce and therefore if there is no differential we won’t expect to see much incentive to produce SAF. This was recognised by the European Parliament and we had high hopes that a higher multiplier would make it through the trilogue. It did not, hence our disappointment.”
Added Schvartzman: “The outcome of a multiplier of just 1.2 means Europe will stay in the slow lane of SAF production. This decision means that not only is the EU not ready to support the de-carbonisation of aviation, but it is missing a huge opportunity to create jobs and improve fuel security in an uncertain world.
“Despite this disappointing outcome, the airline industry will continue to invest in SAF and a whole range of measures to cut carbon and create a sustainable future for air travel. And we call on Member States in the RED II implementation to consider specific support for aviation and also call on the Commission to establish a specific SAF strategy.”
In a more optimistic response to the RED II trilogue talks, a spokesman for one of Europe’s biggest suppliers of renewable transport fuels, Neste, said: “We welcome the support for aviation biofuels as emissions of aviation are growing and sustainable aviation biofuels, such as our MY Renewable Jet Fuel product, are one of the most efficient means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation industry.”
One outcome of the talks is reported to be a complete phase out of controversial palm oil use in European transport by 2030, despite protestations from two of the world’s leading producers, Malaysia and Indonesia. To date, airlines have resisted any use of palm oil in flights using biofuels. However, 88 civil society groups from 34 countries have sent an open letter calling on ICAO States to reject plans for the use of aviation biofuels to be incentivised under the CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme, fearing that large quantities of biofuels made from palm oil will be used in order to meet greenhouse gas targets.
“Palm oil is one of the main drivers of deforestation worldwide, which a major cause of carbon emissions, yet we could soon see airlines rewarded under absurd, industry-friendly UN rules to burn biofuels made from it,” said Simone Lovera, Executive Director of Paraguay-based Global Forest Coalition, one of the letter’s signatories.
At its AGM last year in Cancun, IATA passed a resolution that committed the industry to ensuring SAF conform to “robust” sustainability standards.
Said IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac: “It is important people are reassured that CORSIA-compliant sustainable aviation fuels will be held to the highest environmental standards. Our resolution makes clear our determination that we will only use SAF that conserve an ecological balance and avoid the depletion of natural resources.”
An ICAO technical experts group has recommended 12 governing principles covering sustainability criteria for the production of sustainable aviation fuels for compliance under CORSIA but 10 have been sent back by the ICAO Council for further evaluation after disagreements were expressed by some countries, notably Brazil, a move that has angered EU States.