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EU’s aviation sector poised for a green takeoff by 2050

by Olga Sokolova

From the heart of Brussels comes a fresh gust of change. The European Parliament, driven by a vision for a cleaner future, green-lighted a legislation that amplifies the consumption of sustainable fuels within the aviation sector. In an attempt to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, the EU has woven the RefuelEU aviation regulations into its transformative “Fit for 55 package”. This plan is not just about numbers; it embodies the EU’s ambition to decrease emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 and transition to a climate-neutral continent by 2050. Central to this aspiration is the aviation industry’s pivot to eco-friendly fuels.

The roadmap ahead for the aviation sector is both challenging and promising. The ratified provisions set a trajectory that will see green aviation fuels accounting for 2% of the total by 2025. But that’s just the runway; the percentages soar to 6% by 2030, hit 20% in 2035, 34% by 2040, 42% in 2045, and peak at a hefty 70% by 2050. Synthetic variants like e-kerosene will also secure their spot, expected to constitute up to 35% by the middle of the century. The EU’s new regulations cast a wide net when defining ‘sustainable aviation fuels’.

The spectrum encompasses synthetic varieties, specific biofuels from agricultural leftovers, forestry remains, algae, waste cooking oil, and select animal fats. Moreover, jet fuels reclaimed from waste gases and plastics join the green brigade. The EU, in its commitment to genuine sustainability, has drawn clear boundaries. Fuels derived from food crops, palm, and soy have been sidelined for failing to meet the sustainability litmus test. Notably, the inclusion of renewable hydrogen showcases the EU’s forward-thinking approach, emphasizing its potential role in aviation’s decarbonization.

In a move to foster transparency and informed decision-making, flights will sport EU labels indicating their environmental performance from 2025 onwards. These labels will shed light on the anticipated carbon footprint per traveler and the projected CO2 efficiency per distance, enabling passengers to discern and choose between carriers based on their green credentials. Parliament spokesperson, José Ramón Bauzá Díaz, lauded the initiative, stressing its pivotal role in the aviation sector’s decarbonization journey.

“As global dynamics evolve,” Díaz remarked, “ReFuelEU is not just about meeting targets. It represents the EU’s intent to lead the global narrative on sustainable aviation fuels.” With 518 MEPs endorsing the green fuel shift, 97 opposing, and eight remaining neutral, the wheels are set in motion. Following the Council’s nod, these new norms will begin their descent into practice on 1 January 2024, with certain provisions unfolding by the subsequent year.

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