EU one step closer to cutting aviation emissions with sustainable fuels

Marta Pacheco
Sustainable Aviation Fuel advertisment on fuel storage at Frankfurt airport. Credit: Ubahnverleih/Wikimedia Commons

Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Lawmakers in the EU agreed to increase the uptake of sustainable fuels in the aviation sector in a bid to reduce aircraft emissions as part of the RefuelEU Aviation package.

Civil aviation accounts for 13.4% of total CO2 emissions from EU transport sector and the latest deal hopes to see that figure slashed by around two-thirds by 2050, compared to a ‘no action’ scenario.

According to the deal, sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) include synthetic fuels, certain biofuels produced from agricultural or forestry residues, algae, bio-waste, used cooking oil or certain animal fats, and recycled jet fuels produced from waste gases and waste plastic.

MEPs suggested including renewable hydrogen as part of a sustainable fuel mix, a technology that could progressively contribute to the decarbonisation of air transport.

However, feed and food crop-based fuels, as well as fuels derived from palm and soy materials, will not be considered green as they do not align with the sustainability criteria.

“After months of intense negotiations, I am proud to say the European Parliament has been successful in defending and advancing the ambitious development of sustainable aviation fuels across the EU. We have created a level playing field through harmonised rules and preserved EU air connectivity. With this regulation, the decarbonisation of aviation becomes closer,” said MEP José Ramón Bauzá Díaz.

Starting from 2025, at least 2% of aviation fuels will be green, with this share increasing every five years: 6% in 2030, 20% in 2035, 34% in 2040, 42% in 2045 and 70% in 2050.

In addition, a specific proportion of the fuel mix — 1.2% in 2030, 2% in 2032, 5% in 2035 and progressively reaching 35% in 2050 — must comprise synthetic fuels like e-kerosene.

“Fuel suppliers at EU airports must provide an increasing share of sustainable aviation fuels and aircraft operators increase their use. The EU is ready for take-off towards a more sustainable future for aviation,” said European Commissioner Frans Timmermans.

MEPs also managed to convince EU Heads of State to direct all revenues from non-compliance fines from airlines, airports or fuel suppliers, to research and innovation towards bridging the price difference between sustainable and conventional fuels.
Greenpeace EU transport campaigner Thomas Gelin reacted to the vote, saying that airlines used sustainable fuels “as a smokescreen to dodge the fact that the only truly sustainable aviation is less aviation”.

“The real work starts now, in scaling up SAF in a truly future-proof way. So much hope is put in SAF, this trust shall not be shattered by unsustainable practices,” said Matteo, Sustainable Aviation Policy Manager at the Campaign group Transport & Environment T&E.

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Marta Pacheco is the Brussels Morning European Commission Editor. She studied Political Science and Media & Journalism at the Catholic University of Portugal (UCP). A former Blue Book trainee of the European Commission, Marta has a keen interest in global affairs and experience in EU and diplomatic affairs reporting.