Reducing aviation’s climate impacts should be seen more as an opportunity rather than as a constraint

Beatriz Yordi

Read our interview with Beatriz Yordi, Director Carbon Markets and Clean Mobility, European Commission

The European Commission has a series of legislative proposals on how it aims to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. What are currently the priorities for DG CLIMA that impact aviation and how will they affect the sector in the years to come?

The main priority for the upcoming months is to ensure swift implementation of the adopted ‘Fit for 55’ texts setting in law all sectors’ contributions to the EU target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. DG CLIMA focuses on the implementing legislation for the Emissions Trading System, most notably: (i) the operationalisation of the 20 million allowances of support for the uptake of eligible clean aviation fuels, (ii) the detailed implementation of ICAO’s CORSIA scheme (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) through the ETS Directive - for example, the quality and eligibility criteria of international offset units for aviation in relation to CORSIA - and (iii) the establishment of a world premiere with the implementation of a monitoring, reporting and verification framework for the non-CO2 effects of the sector.

The EU ETS also provides financing opportunities for the decarbonisation of the aviation sector. Since the latest revision of the Directive, 100% of the revenues collected by Member States within the EU ETS framework shall be used for climate related purposes. In addition, the Innovation Fund that is funded by the EU ETS supports highly innovative technologies and flagship projects that can bring about significant emission reductions. It is about sharing the risk with project promoters and putting the spotlight on first-of-a-kind, highly innovative projects. This includes technologies for the production of low and zero-carbon fuels to decarbonise aviation, electrification and other measures that reduce the overall climate impact of aviation, which includes its non-CO2 impacts. 

Although CLIMA does not lead on these other files, the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive and an agreement on a minimum taxation rate for fossil jet fuel would also contribute to decarbonisation. The coming years will also be fundamental for the implementation of ReFuelEU Aviation. 

DG CLIMA has a plan for establishing a Monitoring, Reporting and Verification system for aviation’s non-CO2 effects. Can you give our readers more insight into this?

While the task is new, the topic itself is more than 20 years old, with the IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) identifying the importance of aviation non- CO2 effects in 1999. It is about taking into account the full climate impact of the flights in emissions reporting, notably by monitoring the persistent contrails production and the Nitrogen Oxides effects on climate from the exhaust. Our approach takes the uncertainties linked to the complexity of those effects into due account, while still acting upon them. 

EUROCONTROL has just hosted a conference to improve the understanding of the formation and characteristics of contrails and contrail-induced cirrus clouds, together with their impact on climate. What were your main take aways from the event?

The EUROCONTROL-CANSO conference was a true eye-opener on what can be achieved using evolving science and raised awareness of the aviation impacts on environment. Our main takeaway is that there is enough knowledge to demonstrate that contrail avoidance - and thus a significant reduction of aviation’s climate impact - is possible, and that further research helps improve understanding and modelling results. From the Commission side, we are at the monitoring and reporting stage and don’t want to prejudge any of the mitigation options, although the Innovation Fund is already able to support actions in this area.

The Commission hosted a workshop on non-CO2 and contrails from 13-14 December 2023. Can you tell us more about that?

This workshop was initiated by DG Research and involving different Commission services (DG ENV, DG CLIMA and DG MOVE). The event - together with the consultation meeting that was organised by DG CLIMA on 1st December, focused solely on work on the monitoring, reporting and verification of non-CO2 effects and helped gather input to better progress the topic including its operational, technology and purely research sides. 

"Reducing aviation’s climate impacts should be seen more as an opportunity rather than as a constraint."

Beatriz Yordi Director Carbon Markets and Clean Mobility, DG CLIMA European Commission

EUROCONTROL supports national authorities and aircraft operators in meeting their obligations under (or in the implementation of) the EU Emissions Trading System and ICAO’s CORSIA. We are also providing support to DG CLIMA through a cooperation agreement. Could you describe why this support is important for the Commission?

Indeed, we have had an excellent relationship with EUROCONTROL for many years now. EUROCONTROL really facilitates fulfilling the legal obligations laid down in the ETS Directive, like providing the tool that significantly eases the reporting tasks for small aircraft operators and compiling the list of all aircraft operators with their administering Member States. EUROCONTROL also provided invaluable information during the negotiations of the recent amendment to the ETS Directive on aviation. Furthermore, EUROCONTROL’s expertise and the participation of their experts in different fora largely contribute to the proper implementation of the provisions of the ETS Directive, and to the day-to-day operation of the system.

Last but not least, in your view what can aviation actors, from airspace users to airports, to policymakers and EUROCONTROL, do to make aviation more sustainable faster?

Reducing aviation’s climate impacts should be seen more as an opportunity rather than as a constraint. Having a cap on emissions incentivises innovation and higher competitiveness for the EU industry. On this topic, the tools provided by EU Member States and the Commission, like the ETS Innovation Fund, should be further promoted. The sector demonstrated its capacity for

adopting sound international ambition on CO2 with the adoption of the Long Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) in ICAO. Building on this, we should now look towards strengthening it and covering aviation’s overall climate impact, in Europe and also internationally, in line with the comprehensive contribution of all sectors to meeting the Paris agreement’s temperature goals.

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