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ICAO Conference agrees on new 2050 Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuels

Member States of the International Civil Aviation Council (ICAO) have agreed on a new 2050 Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuels which ICAO says will now help to ensure that conventional jet fuels are substituted with sustainable alternatives to a "significant percentage" by 2050.

(Left image) ICAO Council President Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu opens the Second ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels, held last week in Mexico City, Mexico. States attending the event endorsed ICAO’s new 2050 Vision for Sustainable Alternative Fuels to guide upcoming state and industry actions. 
(Right image) Reviews a biofuels exhibit with Mexico’s Under Secretary for Transport, Yuriria Mascott Pérez (left) ICAO President Aliu, Director General of Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares (ASA), Alfonso Sarabia de la Garza and Director de Combustibles, ASA, Mauricio Omar Arellano Villavicencio (photos courtesy ICAO).

According to a statement, the decision was formalized October 13 at the Second ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels, held in Mexico City, Mexico. States’ delegates to the event also confirmed that any related alternative fuel deployment must adhere to the sustainability criteria currently being developed by a Task Force at ICAO, which includes States, international organizations and environmental groups.

In his opening remarks to the event, ICAO Council President Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu stressed the need for this new Vision, noting that aviation’s emissions reduction progress – currently being achieved through technological innovation and streamlined operations – will be insufficient to meet the sector’s 2020 ICAO targets.

Even after these have been accounted for, we are still left with a significant mitigation requirement. Sustainable alternative fuels are critical to closing this gap, said Dr Aliu.

He also noted that a number of airports have begun offering sustainable aviation fuels to airlines interested in purchasing them and that this approach has led to more than 40 000 sustainable aviation fuels flights being conducted since they were first introduced.

Through these numerous actions, the aviation sector has now supplied the proof of concept for sustainable aviation fuels, confirming their operational viability and the feasibility of producing them in sustainable ways which lessen the impact of aviation on the climate, Aliu added.

Since ICAO’s first conference on this topic in 2009, significant progress has occurred, including an internationally recognized alternative fuels specification, five conversion processes approved for their production, and reductions in production costs. The new ICAO Vision agreed at the Mexico event will now help guide international civil aviation stakeholders as they work to employ sustainable fuel alternatives and significantly reduce aviation emissions.

“Significant” instead of specified volume targets?

In a statement released October 13, the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), a network of nonprofit organizations and the only environmental civil society group accredited as an observer by ICAO, stated that 25 unnamed countries had rejected the 2050 Vision on Sustainable Aviation Fuels as originally proposed by the ICAO Secretariat. The original proposal included volume-based targets for 2025, 2040 and 2050.

ICSA commends ICAO Member States for rejecting the 2050 ICAO Vision on Sustainable Aviation Fuels proposed by the ICAO Secretariat. The proposed volume-based targets for alternative aviation fuel use in 2025, 2040, and 2050 were selected based on poor analysis, and grossly overestimated the environmental benefits and potential emissions reductions, said Brad Schallert, Deputy Director at World Wildlife Fund and a spokesperson for ICSA.

In ICSA’s view, the 2050 ICAO Vision on Sustainable Aviation Fuels should “primarily inspire innovation and technological breakthroughs at a level required to meet the challenge of mitigating international aviation’s climate impact.”

In the early phases of sustainable alternative fuel development, the international aviation sector should continue to prioritize the sustainability and emissions reductions of those fuels, rather than the quantity as eventually recognized in the final Declaration. Producing alternative fuels at scale globally is inherently risky and should be approached with caution. Today, by rejecting the proposed ICAO Vision on Alternative Aviation Fuels, the international community affirmed that a precautionary approach is needed, said Schallert on October 13.

Whether the adopted vision is the same as the originally proposed vision with volume targets or has amendments, remains for the moment unclear.

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