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As the European Union is about to unveil new targets for sustainable aviation fuel in 2021, a group of major European aviation companies—including KLM, Easyjet, Air France, International Airlines Group—as well as research organizations and environmental groups are calling for a more stringent policy approach to sustainability and the sector’s climate impact.

In a consensus statement, the group addresses key principles that must guide the growth of a European sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry as well as the market uptake for SAF in aviation in general to provide real and durable reductions in the environmental impacts of aviation.

Parties endorsing the Fueling Flight initiative share the vision that ramping up SAF in Europe can only be done once and therefore must be done in the right manner. One of the key elements is a regulatory framework that guarantees future-proof sustainability requirements. This cornerstone is needed to build-up production capacity and organize feedstock value chains while avoiding investments that either fail to deliver emission reductions or cause unintended environmental impacts.

Other principles include:

  • The scale-up of saf must be informed by an impact assessment of EU resources;

  • The exclusion of biofuels created from dedicated cropland;

  • Prioritizing fuels made from waste and residues;

  • Case-by-case assessments of sustainability risks;

  • Ensuring both the renewable electricity used to produce electrofuels and carbon capture for fuel production are not incentivized by power sector policies or otherwise double-counted towards those policies;

  • Demonstrated that cover crops eligible for SAF policy support do not interfere with the growth of main crops on existing cropland;

The group envisions a three-phased approach to deploying SAFs into the sector based on technology readiness and feedstock availability.

  • In the first phase of SAF deployment through 2025, waste oils are the likeliest source of low-carbon fuel due to their low carbon intensity and ease of conversion.

  • After reaching the limits in terms of the supply of waste oils that can be converted into SAF using existing technologies, the next most more abundant source of sustainable feedstock consists of lignocellulosic residues and wastes such as the biogenic fraction of municipal solid waste (MSW), agricultural residues & forestry residues.

  • Electrofuels offer substantial long-term potential for supplying SAF, as there are fewer constraints to their production volumes.

The Fueling Flight initiative was convened by the European Climate Foundation (ECF) and ClimateWorks Foundation (CWF) to provide recommendations on the sustainability aspects of the EU’s policy design to support Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). Technical advice was provided by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

Europe must ensure that future policies only promote the most sustainable fuels for reducing the climate impact of aviation, and the EU needs to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The current Renewable Energy Directive does not ensure that fuels used in Europe meet the sustainability standards desired by civil society nor of leading airlines.

In the Fueling Flight initiative, aviation companies, research organizations and environmental groups have now reached agreement on this important topic, and we propose shared guidelines on how to minimise environmental impacts. Policymakers should take this into consideration when defining a policy framework that is fair, affordable and meets the highest sustainability standards without compromise.

—Pete Harrison, Executive Director for EU Policy at the European Climate Foundation


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