Key Points:

  • Over 100 countries agreed on a 5% reduction in aviation carbon emissions by 2030, primarily through the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

  • The agreement, reached during U.N.-led talks in Dubai, faced reservations from China, Russia, and others about economic impacts.

  • The aviation industry's push towards net zero emissions by 2050 aligns with global climate goals, with significant investment needed for SAF development.

Setting New Standards for Aviation Emissions

DUBAI — More than 100 countries have agreed on an interim emissions reduction goal for the industry by 2030. The consensus, reached after five days of U.N.-led discussions in Dubai, aims for a 5% reduction in carbon emissions through the utilization of cleaner energy sources, particularly sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) announced this target, which was revised from an initial draft range of 5-8%.

During the closing session of the meeting, which precedes the upcoming COP28 climate summit, the United States recognized this commitment as sending a "clear and positive signal" to financial institutions. These institutions play a crucial role in investing in clean energy projects necessary to achieve these goals. Aviation contributes an estimated 2-3% of global carbon emissions, and while SAF is a pivotal tool in reducing these emissions, its production currently represents less than 1% of total global jet fuel usage due to high costs.

Encouraging Investment and Technological Advancement in SAF

Mauricio Ramirez Koppel, the ICAO representative from Colombia, emphasized that the 5% target would catalyze and accelerate SAF projects by offering investors a definitive goal. Haldane Dodd, executive director of the Air Transport Action Group, echoed this sentiment, stressing the need for financial and energy sectors to support the necessary infrastructure for increasing SAF availability.

The aviation sector, not directly covered by the Paris Agreement on climate change, has committed to aligning with global climate objectives. The industry has set an "aspirational" target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This week's aviation discussions, involving many of the same countries participating in COP28, have provided insight into the potential for further collaboration in climate action.

However, the agreement faced challenges, particularly concerning the transfer of technology, which is crucial for African and other emerging economies to boost their SAF production capabilities. Notably, China expressed concerns about the goal's potential to significantly raise airline operating costs and its implications for developing countries in terms of energy and food security. Middle Eastern oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq, also objected to both the target and its timeline.

Environmentalists have critiqued the agreement for lacking enforcement mechanisms, suggesting it might not yield tangible results. The aviation industry estimates a substantial investment—between $1.45 trillion and $3.2 trillion—will be necessary for SAF capital development to reach the sector's net zero emissions goal.

The conference also highlighted the need for more accessible financing for developing countries to bolster SAF production outside regions like the U.S. and Europe. Francis Mwangi from Kenya's Civil Aviation Authority underscored his country's readiness to produce SAF, contingent on receiving financing to evaluate the economic benefits of domestic production and to potentially utilize an old refinery in Mombasa for SAF production.