Aviation industry’s net zero plan over-reliant on future technologies

Europe’s airline industry launched a plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Launched with much fanfare, the document identifies the potential of clean fuels but is over-reliant on future technologies of which the costs are still unknown, says T&E. 

The strategy says 92% of aviation’s carbon emissions can come through clean technologies such as hydrogen, hybrid-electric propulsion and sustainable aviation fuels, combined with carbon pricing and improved air traffic management. The remainder of emissions would be offset by carbon removal technologies.

The plan, titled Destination 2050 – A Route to Net Zero European Aviation, is an acknowledgement by the industry that reforms to the EU’s carbon market are needed for the sector to decarbonise, including reducing the cap and getting rid of free pollution permits. And it shows that the industry sees global offsetting schemes as too weak to effectively address aviation emissions.

But T&E warned that the plan to reach net zero by 2050 relies too heavily on the hope that aircraft technology will be deployed on time. The strategy pinpoints short-haul flights as being the most promising when it comes to the switch to hybrid and electric, but the potential price tag for medium and long-haul flights is largely absent from the paper. T&E says the industry needs to be much clearer on production costs as well as deployment costs before governments should consider putting any public money into such projects. 

Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at T&E, said: “Slightly more efficient new jets will not reduce aviation emissions overall if they continue burning fossil fuel, and hydrogen aircraft are far from being market ready. Governments and industry should focus on financing and deploying e-fuels which have significant industrial and environmental potential today.”

Dardenne says the report is right to identify the potential for e-kerosene, especially in the long term. She says the industry should focus on financing and deploying e-kerosene, which can be blended with current fuels without requiring changes to aircrafts’ engines. 

The strategy was released just days after a number of countries including the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Spain called on the European Commission to require fuel suppliers to blend e-kerosene into aviation.

Jo Dardenne added: “While talk of clean fuels is positive, there is a distinct absence of non-CO2 effects in the strategy. These represent two-thirds of the sector’s actual climate impact and should be an integral part of the industry’s climate commitment.”