Governments and oil majors must redirect their focus and investment to support sustainable aviation fuels as the airline industry prepares to raise its environmental goals, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) chief said.
Higher production could lower the price of sustainable aviation fuels as global airlines continue to invest in cutting their carbon footprint even during the Covid-19 pandemic that has hammered the aviation industry, the trade body said in an online press event on Thursday.
“The time for talking is over, the time for action is now, we want everybody in the industry to play their part and to raise their game significantly to ensure we can meet the targets that are necessary for the industry,” Willie Walsh, Iata's director-general, told reporters during the Iata Global Media Days.
The aviation industry has faced a severe backlash from climate change activists to reduce its carbon emissions. In 2009, Iata pledged to halve carbon output by 2050, compared with 2005 levels, but has not updated its target since then, despite emissions rising due to a pre-pandemic air travel boom.
“We recognise that we do need to update our targets. Our intention is to bring a proposal to our annual general meeting, which we will be held in Boston between October 3-5 and you can wait for the AGM … and you will hear from Iata in relation to our new goals,” Mr Walsh said.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by 196 countries, aims to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C — preferably to 1.5°C — compared to pre-industrial levels. It does not specifically include international aviation.
Mr Walsh said that while airlines are working to reduce their carbon emissions, they cannot do it on their own and there is a feasible path towards carbon neutrality if governments, oil companies and aircraft manufacturers contribute to do their part.
“What will be unacceptable to us is if everybody who benefits from our industry in the wider aviation chain thinks that the airlines will just write a big check. We're not going to do that; we will clearly pay the price that is necessary but we expect others to invest and pay the price as well,” he said.
Big oil companies are interested in continuing to produce kerosene because they have invested significantly in that infrastructure, but they now “need to step up to the mark,” Mr Walsh said.
“It's not good enough that these people talk about wanting to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050. We need them to be a part of the solution and therefore they've got to start putting their money, their investments and focus on SAF in the same way as they focused on jet kerosene for many years — the industry will demand it,” the Iata boss said.
Mr Walsh added that oil companies should turn their attention to sustainable aviation fuel production and “rest assured” that there will be demand from global airlines.
Airlines are increasingly committed to buying sustainable aviation fuel despite it costing three times more than jet fuel, Sebastian Mikosz, senior vice president of environment and sustainability at Iata, said during the event.
They increased their consumption of sustainable aviation fuel by 55 per cent in 2020 and this is expected to rise to 70 per cent in 2021, he said.
“This is a fraction of what we consume. It's 0.01 [per cent] of total fuel consumption,” he said. “This is why we need SAF development.”
Limited supply and higher prices of sustainable aviation fuel are limiting increased consumption, he added.
The use of credible carbon offsetting schemes, increasing the production scale of sustainable aviation fuel and improvements in aircraft technology are part of the solutions for decarbonising the industry, Iata said.
The agency plans to hold European plane maker Airbus to a pledge to produce a hydrogen-fuelled aircraft by 2035.
“We will keep the spotlight on Airbus to do that,” Mr Walsh said.