Sustainable Aviation Fuels
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation is technologically challenging. There is scope for some future improvement in technical and operational efficiency, but this is limited. The aviation industry sees sustainable biofuels as the key long-term technology for decarbonizing aviation. Sustainable biofuels have a role to play, but a real aviation solution must also address the issue of soaring demand and provide powerful incentives for in-sector reduction measures such as operational and design efficiencies.
The GMBM, currently under development within ICAO, will credit emissions reductions from the use of biofuels as well as offsets. As such, it will be the first global biofuels policy. Previous experience with biofuel policies, such as the USA Renewable Fuel Standard and the EU Renewable Energy Directive, have shown that extreme care must be taken when designing these policies in order to prevent unintended and damaging consequences for habitats, food security, and carbon emissions.
This means ensuring that the life cycle emissions of aviation alternative fuels are accounted for rigorously, so that shifts to alternative fuels do not inadvertently increase the amount of global warming pollution going up into the atmosphere, and so that the GMBM holds airlines responsible for the full impacts of their fuel choices on the planet. It means ensuring that biofuel plantations are not developed in ecologically important sites (such as natural forests) and do not undermine water or food security. It also means safeguarding against the indirect impacts of expanding biofuel production, including displacing existing agriculture into natural environments. This phenomenon, known as indirect land use change (ILUC), can cause damage to habitats and increase GHG emissions. However, biofuels producers can avoid ILUC, for instance, by using unused or degraded land, or by using wastes instead of crops.
ICAO must learn from past experience with biofuel policies and rule out all biofuel production that damages the climate and undermines sustainable development – whether directly or indirectly – whilst ruling in those biofuels that make a genuine contribution to reducing emissions and improving the welfare of affected communities.