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

, by Kelly Schwarz

Reducing Emissions from Aviation in the EU (2/2)
Low Angle Photo of Airplane, Source: Pexels

As discussed in article one of this series, 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 but also other potent GHG emissions, including nitrogen oxides, water vapour and soot.

To recap, the European Commission proposed the ‘Fit for 55 package’ on the 14th of July 2021, which includes policies to achieve the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality in Europe by 2050. It also involves concrete measures to reduce the emissions of the aviation sector. The three particularly noteworthy measures are ReFuelEU, a revision in the European Emissions Trading System, and the Energy Taxation Directive. While the first article focused on explaining these measures in more detail and explaining the barriers to reducing aviation emissions, the following sections focus on analysing potentials and flaws in their effectiveness to reduce emissions.

1. ReFuelEU

This regulation obliges jet fuel suppliers to blend a certain percentage of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The mandate starts in 2025 with 2% and 5% in 2050. The initiative prioritises the promotion of advanced biofuels (made from waste and residues) and synthetic fuels made from clean electricity.

The proposal’s exclusion of crop-based biofuels like corn, wheat, and palm oil is a beneficial move because these fuels have several negative effects on society and the environment, including food insecurity. And if there is increasing deforestation to grow these crops, they may even produce more carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuels. However, a stronger focus should be put on promoting e-kerosene within the ReFuelEU proposal rather than advanced biofuels. This is because some advanced biofuels have limited availability, and some have negative environmental impacts. The objective for e-kerosene in the proposal is very low; it should be a top priority to raise it above the suggested 0.7% in 2030 and 5% in 2035.

The demand that Member States implement sanctions on aviation fuel suppliers and aircraft operators in the case of non-compliance is one of the plan’s advantages. Moreover, the regulation requires airlines to uplift at least 90% of jet fuel from EU airports. This prevents airlines to avoid the SAF mandate by purchasing fuel from airports outside the EU.

2. Energy Taxation Directive (ETD)

At the moment, the ETD is very outdated. As it is not being revised since 2003, the ETD allows fossil fuel industries to enjoy tax exemptions, making Europe favour fossil fuels. However, under the new proposal, kerosene and other fossil fuel used for aviation will no longer be tax-exempt for voyages inside the EU. This is good news as it represents a significant opportunity to kickstart a fair and environmentally friendly tax reform across the EU.

Beginning in 2023, there would be no minimum tax on aviation fuel. Over the next 10 years, that rate would rise gradually until it reached the maximum rate. Moreover, cargo-only flights are exempted from taxes. As a result, the proposal maintains the luxury to airlines to pay low tax rates for ten years until the proposed rates are completely implemented. Furthermore, by being exempt from taxes, flights that exclusively carry cargo will continue to receive preferential treatment. Hence, the minimum rate of the jet fuel tax should be applied for flights within the EU as of 2023.

3. Aviation and the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)

The revision includes an incremental phase-out of the free allowances that airlines receive. It currently only applies to flights within the European Economic Area. It could deliver up to 53% more emission reductions for aviation in Europe if applied to all departing flights compared to the current plan, and 113% more reduction if extended to both incoming and outgoing flights, a new study finds. Flights departing from the EU and incoming to the EU are mostly covered by CORSIA. However, it has been shown by various studies that the offsets used under CORSIA are not environmentally effective and do not incentivise to use clean technology or sustainable fuels. And it lacks transparency and enforceability.


The new EU policies that focus on aviation emissions reduction are a step in the right direction. However, much more needs to be done to fight aviation emissions and tackle the climate crisis. Firstly, it is important that subsidies are removed that make the prices for flight tickets stay so low. Moreover, the EU needs to provide more sustainable modes of transport within Europe, such as railways and buses to give an incentive to consumers to take the train or bus instead of the plane and to make it more affordable. More specifically, additional measures and revisions are recommended to achieve a higher emissions reduction.

 CORSIA is environmentally ineffective. The EU ETS needs to be strengthened by applying it to all departing flights or even better to both incoming and outgoing flights.

 Investments should be made to research non-CO2 effects and measures should be implemented that address these impacts. For example, avoiding flight paths in climate-sensitive areas and new standards for engines.

 More incentives need to be given to airlines to use e-kerosene. Currently, it is a lot more expensive than fossil jet fuel. Hence, the EU could provide funding, used from the EU ETS, to improve the supply of e-kerosene which would lower the price.

 Since airlines will still emit emissions also with SAF, the EU should invest in improving public transportation infrastructure so that for short travel it becomes cheaper and more accessible and reliable to use the train or bus instead of the plane.


To reduce emissions in the aviation sector, the current proposals and policies are not enough. Moreover, more research and policies are needed that address aviation’s non-CO2 impacts. Other modes of public transportation need to be extended such as rail transport and busses, hence, it is recommended to also implement measures to reduce the demand for flying.

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