Currently, air travel accounts to 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions. If action isn’t taken now, it could represent up to 22% of global emissions by 2050 as other industries decarbonize at a faster pace. Promisingly, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), inclusive of nearly 300 airlines, approved a resolution for the global air transport industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This commitment will align with the Paris Agreement goal for global warming not to exceed 1.5°C.
IATA member airlines and the wider aviation industry are now collectively committed to ambitious emissions reduction goals. To this end, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) has been identified as one of the key elements in helping achieve these goals, with governmental support being cited as essential to using sustainable aviation fuels to achieve the industry’s climate goals.
Capital’s Groum Abate reached out to Sebastian Mikosz, Senior Vice President for Member and External Relations at IATA, for insights on sustainable aviation and Africa’s current status on the matter. Excerpts;
Capital: What is the current status of the pandemic effect on the aviation industry and preparedness of Africa towards Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)?
Sebastian Mikosz: Covid-19 has not only disrupted the African market but also the global market. At the moment, most of the markets are bouncing back and similarly the African market is re-branding itself in the post-pandemic era. Pre-pandemic, the statistical figures showed that the African market as the one with the fastest growth from a very low baseline with an overall traffic in Africa at 100 million passengers. Of course the growth trajectory might have been affected by the pandemic but as the globe has opened up, the pace will equally pick up.
With regards to Africa’s preparedness towards Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), various feasibility studies are being conducted to overcome airline industry’s reliance on fossil fuels. We are looking forward on having one or two projects around the continent that can serve as benchmarks. Africa in itself is rich in fantastic feedstock, biomass, crops, plenty of sugar which can be used as bio-fuels to help in cutting CO2 emissions.
All this is great, but investment in these projects is crucial and we have to work heavily in attracting investors. Of course investors look at safer environments to which sometimes soaring taxation, political stability and similar cases can present challenges, since from an investor’s point of view you have to get your return on investment as soon as possible.
Capital: Are there any punitive measures that will take place for countries who do not take part in CORSIA?
Sebastian Mikosz: The simple answer is no; because one cannot place a punitive measure in a system which is voluntary.
A bit of backstory is that in 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted a global market-based mechanism, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), to address CO2 emissions from international aviation. CORSIA was thus the first global market-based measure for any sector and represents a cooperative approach that moves away from a “patchwork” of national or regional regulatory initiatives through the implementation of a global scheme that has been developed through consensus among governments, industry, and international organizations.
CORSIA aims to stabilize international civil aviation net Carbon (IV) oxide emissions at 2019 levels, from 2021, using offsetting programs. Offsetting is an action by a company or individual to compensate for their emissions by financing a reduction in emissions elsewhere. They are a fundamental component of global, regional and national emissions reduction policies. Offsetting programs have operated for decades and continue to be an effective mechanism to underpin action against climate change. CORSIA was designed to be a short- to medium-term strategy (2021-2035) to achieve carbon neutral growth in international aviation until low-emission technology such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) can be scaled up and electric and hydrogen-powered technology fully developed in the coming decades. Offsetting is not intended as an alternative to new technology but as part of a suite of measures to stabilize and reduce emissions. We envisage that as new technology such as SAF becomes widespread, the need for offsets will diminish.
Offsetting requirements will apply from 2021. At the end of each 3-year compliance period, operators will have to demonstrate that they have met their offsetting requirements by cancelling the appropriate number of emissions units. In order to take into account the special circumstances and respective capabilities of states, ICAO member states agreed to implement offsetting requirements in phases. From 2021 until 2026, only flights between states that volunteer to participate in the pilot and/or first phase will be subject to offsetting requirements. The countries that have volunteered cover about 77% of all international aviation activity. From 2027, virtually all international flights will be subject to mandatory offsetting requirements, representing more than 90% of all international aviation activity. The exceptions are flights to and from Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and states which represent less than 0.5% of international RTKs, unless these States participate on a voluntary basis. Until September 2021,107 States have volunteered to join CORSIA for 2022.
Capital: What consequences await the African Airlines if they do not have projects on SAF?
Sebastian Mikosz: Our focus is not consequences but rather making sure that no country is left behind, and as IATA we want to collaboratively work with all airlines including that of Africa to make sure that this is realized. The whole purpose of us as IATA is to solve this issue.
Buyers and end-users globally are increasingly demanding sustainable products and materials but cannot always access them via their existing supply chain network. This is the case, for example, for SAF.
SAF is currently produced and supplied in a few countries and airports, meaning that it is often out of reach for the growing number of customers globally – including not only airlines but also their corporate customers who wish to decrease emissions from business travel.
Book and Claim is a solution that enables airlines to purchase SAF without being geographically connected to a supply site, and to further transfer its sustainability attributes to their corporate partners.
Technically speaking, Book and Claim is a chain of custody model that allows to ‘de-couple’ specific attributes, like for example the environmental benefits, from the physical product and to transfer them separately via a dedicated registry in the form of a ‘credit’. This approach has been already successfully implemented in the renewable electricity sector and is a system that can benefit the African Airline market in the future as well.
Capital: For Africa, the state commitment and sector commitment may vary. How are you working to synergize this approach?
Sebastian Mikosz: Overall we have an ICAO approach. And Africa is represented by countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Tunisia and others who are part of the council representing Africa.
The approach is not by state level rather at UN level. So it’s a global commitment from countries that needs to be translated into national and international elements. So our plan is to hammer the same message. We need long term aspirational goals to be aligned with the industry commitment which is that of 2050, that stems from the Paris agreement. And this approach in itself it’s very difficult and quite frankly, not useful to even deviate from, up until we achieve our targets.
If countries or ICAO creates another solution then we’ll see what impact is it for us. Definitely it will not change the ambition of the industry, that’s for sure.
Capital: What will be the effect of de-carbonization to the African market and more so to the travelers?
Sebastian Mikosz: The burden when it comes to the financial aspect of de-carbonization is one that will be felt and be bared by all countries.
It’s going to be harder for everyone to travel and decarbonize. The ticket prices may double or be much higher and of course this will not only affect Africa but also Americans, Europeans, and everyone in general. The cost of de-carbonization does exist but I think that implicitly we all know that and we all agree that the merits outweigh the financial costs.