COP26: Nations to develop aviation emissions targets, airlines use joint purchasing power to scale alternative fuels

The Jet-Zero Strategy does not outline measures to cap or reduce passenger numbers – a move recommended by the Government’s own climate advisors

The announcements from nations, states and the private sector are being made to mark Transport Day (10 November) at COP26 – one of the most highly-anticipated themed days of the twelve-day agenda.

From nations and states, a new declaration has been signed, committing signatories to jointly develop emissions targets on the road to net-zero by 2050 that are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature pathway. There are 18 signatories at this stage, collectively accounting for more than 40% of global aviation emissions annually.

The hope is for the targets to be more broadly adopted once they are developed. Target development will take place with the support of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and “other complementary cooperative initiatives”, the declaration stipulates.

The targets will be time-bound and numerical and will set out which technologies will be used to decarbonise aviation. The approach will, the declaration indicates, be based on technological solutions rather than capping growth to the sector – an approach which has been pushed by green campaigners and the UK Government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC).

It states that parties recognise “ that despite the impact of Covid-19, the international aviation industry and the number of global air passengers and volume of cargo is expected to increase significantly over the next 30 years”.

Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Spain, Turkey, the US, the UK, Korea, Norway, the Netherlands, Morocco, the Maldives, Kenya, Finland, Costa Rica and Burkina Faso are the first signatories to the declaration.

Aviation is responsible for around 3% of global annual emissions, but is considered a hard-to-abate sector and, pandemic aside, has been exponentially growing as a sector in terms of passenger numbers and emissions generated.

Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance

From the private sector this morning, the big news on aviation is that the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA) has opened to new members for the first time.

The Alliance was launched in April by RMI and the Environmental Defence Fund, in the aim of bringing together the purchasing power of fuel buyers to stimulate the scaling of supply chains for alternative fuels and to encourage policy support.

Its founding members included JP Morgan Chase, Boeing, Deloitte, Microsoft, Netflix, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group and Salesforce. New members include United Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and Amazon Air – the e-commerce giant’s aviation arm.

Last year, SABA states, less than 0.1% of aviation fuel use globally was attributed to sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) produced from renewable sources or waste feedstocks. The Alliance has claimed that its work could help overcome the barriers of “disaggregated, insufficient demand” and high fuel costs.

SAFs are popular with businesses as they are a “drop-in” solution – blends of up to 50% can be used without the need to upgrade aircraft. Moreover, depending on the variety, their life-cycle carbon footprint can be up to 80% lower than traditional jet fuel.

However, some have argued that bodies across the aviation value chain are over-emphasising SAF in a bid to under-invest in electric and hydrogen solutions – and to avoid difficult conversations on capping growth in the sector. There are also arguments of greenwashing around SAF claims. Dutch Airline KLM was notably ordered by a court last year to change one of its advertising campaigns, which claimed that it “flies biofuel on a daily basis”.

In a bid to overcome this latter issue, SABA has stated that its members are advocating for “a rigorous, transparent system for tracking, booking and claiming the environmental attributes of high-integrity SAF”.  The UK Government announced in July that it is developing sustainability requirements for SAF producers and guidance around SAF-related claims.

Spotlight on shipping

Aviation isn’t the only mode of transport where big announcements have been made at COP26 today – there have also been international declarations on ending diesel and petrol car and HGV sales, and on decarbonising shipping.

On the latter, a new ‘Clydebank Declaration’ will unite at least 19 nations in developing zero-emission shipping routes between ports. These so-called ‘green shipping corridors’ will act as a test-bed for emerging technologies. Bodies such as the Global Maritime Forum and World Economic Forum are foreseeing that a mix of technologies will be needed for low-carbon shipping, including hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and electrification.

The aim is to establish at least six corridors by the mid-2020s, which are likely to be shorter routes, and to add “many more routes”, including long-haul routes, by 2030.

Signing the declaration are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costs Rica, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Marshall Islands, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the US and the UK.

The UK, as COP26 host, has been calling for the global maritime sector to agree on an “absolute zero” emissions target by 2050, so it is not over-reliant on offsetting. edie’s content editor Matt Mace recently penned a blog on moving beyond “net” to “zero”, which you can read here.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from COP26 with edie’s Live Blog and Daily COP26 Covered Podcast Series. 

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Kim Warren says:

    Don’t lie to us – there is no such thing as Sustainable Aviation Fuel until we get to hydrogen. The atmosphere doesn’t care what hydrocarbons we burn! UK flights put out 30m tons equal to 3 big volcanic eruptions every year.

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