Aviation Sustainability Briefing interview with Jo Dardenne, Manager Aviation at Transport & Environment

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Jo Dardenne

“If decarbonisation is truly placed at the centre of aviation’s recovery, the sector needs to accept that jets can no longer burn untaxed kerosene post-crisis and accept swiftly and widely deploying clean fuels, like synthetic fuels.”

The European Commission is currently assessing the best ways to implement CORSIA - the first-ever global scheme to address CO2 emissions from aviation - in EU law. We caught up with Jo Dardenne, Manager Aviation at Transport & Environment to discuss the NGO’s views on the progress on CORSIA and EU’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) and their expectations.

Jo, could you tell us briefly about the work T&E is focusing on at the moment and your priorities?

T&E’s work at the moment is focused on preparing for the upcoming Green Deal package in June 2021, which is the biggest opportunity to date for Europe to effectively address aviation’s climate impact. This includes the ReFuelEU initiative aimed at deploying sustainable advanced fuels for aviation as well as revisions of the EU ETS and the Energy Taxation Directive, to finally apply adequate carbon pricing to the sector. We are also eager to ensure Europe implements swift mitigation measures to address the non-CO2 effects of aviation, as they represent two thirds of the actual climate impact of the sector. If we get this package right, aviation will finally start to catch-up in the decarbonisation race.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly lowered air traffic and consequently emissions from aviation. How do you think it will influence the strategies for aviation decarbonisation and what will be the impact on CORSIA and the EU ETS?

Indeed, COVID-19 groundings led emissions on flights within Europe to plummet 64% in 2020. But this temporary drop won’t have any long lasting benefits for the climate if emissions grow back to the excessive levels observed before the crisis. With over €36 billion received by airlines from national governments, the sector owes it to European taxpayers to build back better, by accepting that international aviation emissions can no longer escape national climate targets and stop believing they are properly regulated by ineffective international offsetting schemes like CORSIA.

A recent study commissioned by the European Commission showed that implementing CORSIA would lead to the biggest global increase in aviation CO2 emissions, whereas reintegrating long haul emissions in the EU ETS would have the largest environmental benefits and deliver positive impacts on employment and the economy.

 We have seen growing commitments from the sector to decarbonise, like Destination 2050, but the real test is to see how these plans translate into concrete policy to reduce emissions within the sector once proposals are on the table. To get to zero by 2050, we need effective measures today. If decarbonisation is truly placed at the center of aviation’s recovery, the sector needs to accept that jets can no longer burn untaxed kerosene post-crisis and accept swiftly and widely deploying clean fuels, like synthetic fuels.

What are your views on the progress achieved so far by CORSIA and the EU ETS?

When it comes to CORSIA, despite our previous involvement in trying to make it work, we see it increasingly as an ineffective and unwanted distraction from much more effective European measures. Studies have shown that CORSIA will never provide any financial incentives for airlines to reduce emissions. There will be an oversupply of less than 1€ carbon offsets which are even cheaper than using clean fuels and none of the offsetting programmes meet all of the required sustainability criteria.

We consider the EU ETS as one of the most effective policy tools to lock in the emissions reductions seen during the pandemic, as it can set a clear decarbonisation pathway for aviation by actually putting a cap on aviation’s extra and intra EU emissions and making 2019 the peak pollution year for airlines.

The Commission has said that CORSIA will not replace the EU’s ETS, but it will complement it. Another objective is to adjust the EU ETS to reach the 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target (55% compared to 1990). What are your expectations on this?

The whole principle of offsetting rooted in CORSIA is incompatible with the EU’s goals of climate neutrality by 2050, as aviation emissions can continue growing whereas Europe is targeting economy wide emissions reductions of at least 55% by 2030. If the EU is to reach this target it needs to make the EU ETS bigger and better, by enlarging the scope to cover all flights as well as removing free allowances and setting a true cap on aviation emissions.

What can aviation actors, from airspace users to airports, to policy-makers and EUROCONTROL, do to make aviation more sustainable faster?

All actors have a great role to play in decarbonising the sector, from airports deploying infrastructure for alternative fuels, to airspace managers improving flight efficiency, or aircraft manufacturers developing zero emissions planes, and airlines using increasing amounts of clean fuels. But this can only happen if both the industry and regulators do not miss the mark and accept policies that will help aviation recover sustainably. The faster the policies are implemented, the better it is for the aviation sector and the climate.

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