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Combatting Issues in Hard-to-abate Sectors with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)

While aviation may not be the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for only approximately 3% of the total emissions, it is still a significant one. As air travel popularity continues to grow, the demand for jet fuel rises, which has led to a significant rise in aviation emissions that will impact the environment for many years to come.


The aviation industry is considered a hard-to-abate sector due to a combination of factors, such as its dependence on fossil fuels, the long lifespan of aircrafts, strict safety regulations, international nature, and lack of infrastructure for alternative fuels. Despite these challenges, the industry has made progress through efficient improvements, such as adopting sustainable aviation fuels, and exploring new technologies including electric and hydrogen-powered planes. However, transitioning to zero-emission flying with new technologies remains a challenge, as it is much more difficult than switching to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from kerosene-based jet fuel. While new technologies like electric and hydrogen-powered planes offer the possibility of zero-emission flying, SAF presents a more immediate solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the aviation industry.


Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is a renewable and sustainable alternative to conventional jet fuel used in aviation, produced from renewable feedstocks such as plant-based materials, agricultural waste, or municipal solid waste, and has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuel. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), SAF could contribute to around 65% in the reduction of emissions needed by aviation to reach net-zero in 2050. However, the aviation industry faces significant challenges in achieving this goal. But SAF is currently up to two to eight times more expensive than traditional jet fuel. Additionally, there is a lack of clarity and alignment across government and regulatory bodies regarding emission reduction targets. Multiple surveys report that travelers would prefer airlines that prioritize sustainability. According to OAG, a global data provider, 56% of all travelers and 50% of business travelers would switch from their preferred airlines to ones which are sustainable.


There are several ways to make SAF more popular and increase its adoption in the aviation industry.

  1. Investments in research, development, and deployment of next-generation fuels: This refers to funding research and development of new, more sustainable aviation fuels that can replace fossil fuels. Governments and private companies can invest in this technology to help accelerate the development and deployment of SAF.

  2. Tax credits or subsidies to incentivize investment and production: Governments can provide tax credits or subsidies to companies that produce or invest in SAF, which can help reduce the cost of production and encourage companies to invest in this area.

  3. Regulations to accelerate demand for next-generation fuels: Governments can implement regulations that require airlines to use a certain percentage of SAF in their fuel mix. This can help create a market for SAF and encourage companies to produce more of it.

  4. Technical standards – including full lifecycle accounting of the GHG emissions – tied to the production, transport, and use of aviation fuels: Technical standards can be put in place to ensure that SAF is produced, transported, and used in a sustainable way. This includes accounting for the full lifecycle emissions of SAF, from production to use, to ensure that it is actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The aviation industry faces significant challenges in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, but there are promising solutions such as the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and other next-generation fuels. Collaboration across the industry, innovation, and ambition are crucial to achieving sustainability goals. Governments, regulators, banks, and financial institutions can play a significant role by providing incentives and support for SAF production, investment, and purchase. Moreover, implementing technical standards, regulations, and tax credits can help accelerate the transition to next-generation fuels and significantly reduce aviation's net emissions. Through concerted efforts and collective action, the aviation industry can achieve its sustainability goals and contribute to a greener future.

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