Reducing Emissions from Aviation in the EU (1/2)

, by Kelly Schwarz

Reducing Emissions from Aviation in the EU (1/2)
Credits: Pexels, ’Airplane Wing Above Clouds’

Aviation is important for connecting people and for the global economy. However, the aviation sector contributes 4.6% to global warming. In 2015, aviation accounted for 2.1% of global CO2 emissions. Aviation does not only emit CO2 emissions, non-CO2 effects account for over half of aviation’s climate impact by emitting other greenhouse gases including nitrogen oxides, water vapour and soot.

Emissions from aviation are increasing faster than those from any other mode of transportation. While CO2 emissions from other sectors have decreased, CO2 emissions from aviation have increased by 28% since 2013. If no proper mitigation measures are implemented, emissions are expected to double or even triple by 2050.

There are already some international and EU policy measures that are aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. These are important steps forward toward reducing emissions in the aviation sector. The current measures in place are the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) which was implemented by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 2021. It is a carbon offset scheme designed to reduce CO2 emissions from international flights. Another measure is the ICAO’s CO2 emissions standard, which imposes binding energy efficiency and CO2 reduction targets for new aircrafts to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions.

Lastly, the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) sets a limit on how much CO2 emissions a company of a specific sector can emit. Emission allowances are then auctioned off or given away for free and can then be traded. The EU ETS includes several sectors such as aviation and the steel industry. However, several studies have shown that these measures are not sufficient in reducing emissions. Moreover, no measure currently considers tackling non-CO2 related emissions. The EU proposed its Fit-for-55 Package in July 2021 which outlines proposed measures to tackle emissions and achieve the ambitious goal set in the European Green Deal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 and a 55% emissions reduction by 2030 compared to 1990s emissions levels.

The aim of this article is to give an overview of the EU proposals within the Fit-for-55 Package that focus on reducing aviation emissions. The article first starts by outlining the barriers to reducing emissions, and the potential of sustainable aviation fuel while afterwards diving into the EU proposals. A second article will analyse the policies in more depth and discuss whether they provide a good potential to reduce emissions, and what needs to be done to further improve the rapid emissions reduction in the aviation sector.

What are the barriers to reducing aviation emissions?

Aviation remains a heavily subsidised industry, with subsidies given to aircraft manufacturers, airports, and airlines. However, fuel and airline tickets are the most heavily subsidised. Unlike motorists throughout Europe, airlines pay no duty on their fuel. Furthermore, no VAT is levied on tickets sold, such as train and bus tickets, reducing incentives to take the train rather than the plane. Moreover, sustainable aviation fuel can cost up to two to eight times as much as traditional jet fuel.

Sustainable Fuels

The best way to reduce emissions would be to fly fewer planes. However, as it is unlikely that the demand for aviation will shrink drastically in the near future, sustainable fuels provide an alternative to reduce aviation emissions. However, the proper type of fuel must be pursued. Some actors propose the utilisation of crop-based biofuels, but it has been shown that the spread of these fuels accelerates deforestation and rising food prices. Therefore, a focus should be set on sustainable fuels that do not create problems with food shortages and should be derived from renewable electricity, such as e-kerosene. E-kerosene is a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from CO2, water, and renewable energy.

Overview of the EU proposals

1. ReFuelEU Aviation

Fuel suppliers are required to include SAF in aviation fuel supplied to EU airports. The obligation would begin in 2025 at 2% SAF and gradually increase to 63% in 2050. The proposal also includes a 0.7% sub-obligation for e-kerosene beginning in 2030. To avoid fuel tankering [1], aircraft operators are also required to pick up fuel from EU airports.

2. Energy Taxation Directive

The proposed changes to the Directive aim to make cleaner fuels more appealing in all modes of transportation. This means the end of all fossil-fuel subsidies and a review of current tax breaks for jet fuel on intra-EU flights. In practice, this means that beginning in 2023, the minimum tax rate for aviation fuel for intra-EU flights will be zero, but will gradually increase over a 10-year period. During that 10-year period, SAF, including renewable hydrogen and advanced biofuels, would be exempt from minimum EU taxes, and cargo-only flights would be exempt.

3. Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation

The Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Directive (AFIR) already exists. This proposal aims to make it from a directive to a regulation. Moreover, a new AFIR plans to establish more electric infrastructure for airports.

4. Aviation and the EU ETS

The proposal on revising the EU ETS includes the incremental phase-out of the free allowances that are given to aircraft operators from 2024 to 2026 and a complete phase-out from 2027 onwards. To meet the more stringent 2030 emission target, the EU Commission proposes lowering the emissions cap by 4.2% annually, rather than the current 2.2%, and encouraging EU Member States to use auction proceeds more aggressively to combat climate change. Regarding the scope, airlines with flights within the European Economic Area, including the United Kingdom and Switzerland, must apply the EU ETS requirements. Whereas airlines with other international flights that include participating countries within CORSIA must apply the CORSIA requirements.

The new proposed regulations appear to make the EU’s actions in reducing aviation emissions more ambitious. But the question remains whether these measures are sufficient to meet the EU’s ambitious Green New Deal target. This will be covered in the second part of this article series.


[1Fuel tankering is the practice of transporting more fuel than is necessary for a flight in order to reduce or avoid refuelling at the destination airport.

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