… to achieve net zero emissions in air transport by 2050. The production and use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel must become part of a much broader approach to meet this target, both mid and long-term, the World Bank urges in a new analysis titled: The Role of Sustainable Aviation Fuels in Decarbonizing Air Transport.
While Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is the buzz word in today's aviation landscape, it remains just one tool among several to avoid greenhouse gas emissions by the industry. Placing the
relevance of this low-emission fuel in an overall context is the key message of the analysis. Practically, this means that SAF should be demystified and be interlocked with other commitments to
achieve the projected climate goals by 2050 – latest. “Aviation decarbonization policies, including those aimed at promoting the SAF industry, should be integral to countries’ broader climate
targets and actions on energy transition and agricultural and environmental sustainability,” the paper states.
Hence, large-scale SAF deployment will need to be combined with technological and operational improvements of the aircraft system, smarter air traffic and ground operations, higher environmental taxes to reduce air travel demand, particularly leisure and low-cost flights, and by encouraging a shift of demand to other transportation modes or videoconferencing.
This ecosystem of multiple incentives and layers must be embedded in a broad political and legal framework, urge the authors of the World Bank examination of how to best achieve clean(er) skies.
Clean skies cost (much) money
Easier said than done. This is acknowledged by the experts. In their analysis, they differentiate between countries, especially the OECD members, for which the recommended decarbonization path is viable despite high financial outlays, and those that simply lack the means to do so.
In fact, the costs just for the mass production of SAF, are enormous, not to mention the other supplementary proposals listed in the publication. “Reaching projected SAF production volumes will require significant capital expenditure that could be beyond the reach of developing countries without assistance,” the study predicts.
This statement by the World Bank is likely to put pressure on the haves to transfer their money to the have-nots to finance the mitigation process. After all, aviation, be it passenger or cargo transport, is a global industry, and greenhouse gas emissions do not stop at borders.
The 2050 net-zero targets set by the ICAO can therefore only be achieved if the financially strong countries support the weaker ones, the authors conclude. “This will require substantial funds as well as adequate global and regional political measures to support large-scale SAF production, funding, and sustainability,” the authors note.
The World Bank estimates that SAF feedstock potential in non-OECD countries is equivalent to a production of approximately 510 million tons of SAF, of which roughly two-thirds (345 million metric tons) could come from non-food feedstocks. Further to this, the study emphasizes that the emergence of an SAF industry in developing countries could have significant benefits for the local economy and the climate, and would create many jobs.
Currently, SAF accounts for only 0.1% of global aviation fuel demand and costs 2 to 5 times more than conventional jet fuel (source: IATA 2020). Nevertheless, recent years have seen significant momentum in the production and uptake of SAF. However, these efforts are still concentrated in higher-income countries.
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