Green Aviation in 21st century Europe

The EU Green Week took place virtually last week, on the theme of preserving global biodiversity and nature. The panels featured renowned policy makers and scientists in a series of short and engaging talks discussing how tackling biodiversity loss could help increase the future well-being of our societies, by mitigating the impacts of climate change and the devastating effects of pandemics.

The importance of decoupling future economic activity and future human well-being from our natural resource use was mentioned. Two key points stood out to us – first, that economic growth and preserving nature are not in contradiction with one another. Second, that we must treat the causes and not the symptoms of the current health crisis, and other crises stemming from and including climate change. The EU Green Deal (EGD) was set up to achieve these aims.

Janez Potočnik, who co-chairs the International Resource Panel, said “The circular economy should be seen as an instrument to deliver decoupling of economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts and as part of a bigger picture of economic, societal and cultural transformation needed to deliver the SDGs.”

The EGD is an ambitious scheme to be carbon neutral by 2050, based on implementing a sustainable circular economy. The European Commission views recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and sustainability as “two sides of the same coin”, as stated in its executive summary report on the System Change Compass.

The System Change Compass lays out the main systemic orientations the EGD should take, taking an integrated systems perspective in order to move toward a more equitable and socially inclusive ‘new normal’. The report identifies four main societal needs which consume the most resources: nutrition, housing, daily consumer goods, and mobility.

Within these four needs, the System Change Compass identifies “50 champion orientations”, or 50 sustainable industries, that can be scaled up to form the foundations of a circular economy. These represent specific investment opportunities that could create new jobs and form the backbone of a new, more resilient, European industrial landscape as part of the green recovery from the pandemic.

With the number of passengers and flights expected to increase in the coming years, green aviation is considered a “champion orientation” to meet society’s need for the transportation of people and goods, where funding at the national and European level should be directed. The transition to a carbon-neutral mobility industry can occur through policy measures and technological solutions, such as sustainable aviation fuels. To achieve this aim, the full report states that we need to: “improve aircraft fuel efficiency, increase the supply and demand of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (made either from advanced biofuels or produced using renewable energy sources), develop new technologies and systems engineering processes and methods to optimise air routes”. Shifting to sustainable aviation fuels would lead to drastic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions and create quality jobs. This could also be complemented by additional measures, for example by implementing ‘mobility-as-a-service’ transportation schemes – increasing public transport on the ground would help reduce carbon dioxide emissions from people travelling to and from airports in taxis and privately-owned cars. Above ground is where sustainable aviation fuels come into play, by reducing emissions from the actual flights.

Sustainable aviation fuels represent a source of untapped potential to reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation sector. The next step is to increase supply and demand for sustainable aviation fuels in the EU, in order to increase their consumption.

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