EESC says Commission's green aviation initiative has room for improvement

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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) agrees in principle with the new Commission proposal aimed at increasing the use of sustainable fuel in aviation but is concerned about a possible distortion of competition in the sector.

The new initiative of the European Commission to speed up the growth of a market for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) is a step in the right direction, but some modifications are essential to ensure that it can be implemented effectively and without creating distortions. This is the key message of the opinion on the RefuelEU Aviation proposal, drafted by Thomas Kropp and adopted at the October plenary.

It is indeed true that sustainable aviation fuels – if produced in sufficient quantities and available to all airlines – would significantly reduce the sector's CO2 emissions. However, it is not clear whether the approach pursued by the Commission would prevent distortions to competition, said Mr Kropp.

Aviation is an international service sector and covers two distinct markets with different market dynamics: on the one hand, the EEA Single European Market and, on the other, the internationally regulated market. The Commission's draft proposal should clearly reflect this difference and aim to maintain a level playing field within the EEA while proactively and globally promoting applicable standards for sustainability.

The EU aviation market is essential for trade and tourism in the European Union, as well as for the international competitiveness of the European economy. However, contrary to other sectors, aviation is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. With aviation being one of the fastest growing sectors in terms of CO2 emissions, it is important to adopt regulatory initiatives to mitigate its impact on the environment.

In order for the sector to grow whilst reducing its CO2 emissions, the Commission's proposal is designed to accelerate the production, distribution and uptake of SAF by imposing an obligation on jet fuel suppliers to deliver an increasing share of fuel blended with SAF at all EU airports and requiring airlines to increase their uptake in pre-defined incremental steps.

The EESC recommends implementing a pilot phase, during which the EEA-internal environmental provisions could be aligned, while the Commission would focus its efforts on closely coordinating the EU's promotion of SAF with similar international initiatives. Once a sufficient quantity of SAF is produced and available to EU and non-EU carriers, the Regulation would then be fully applied to also cover obligations for non-EU airlines departing from EU airports.

On the issue of CO2 emissions, Mr Kropp has drawn up an opinion on Notification on the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which was also adopted at the October plenary. In the document, the EESC endorses the Commission's proposal to amend Directive 2003/87/EC with respect to the notification of offsetting in 2021, supporting its urgent adoption in order to achieve legal certainty.

In 2020, CO2 emissions from aviation fell by 64% compared with the previous year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Against this background, the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation of the United Nations) Council decided in July 2020 that the 2019 emissions should be used as the baseline for calculating the offsetting by airlines for the years 2021-2022. In accordance with the proposed amendment to Directive 2003/87/EC, Member States should be obliged to report offsets, as required by international law, in 2022 for 2021, even though the emissions increase in 2021 relative to 2019 is expected to be negligible, if not zero.

In this respect, the Committee recommends prolonging the changed baseline until passenger numbers are at 2019 levels, at least for 2022 and 2023, the years during which the recovery is expected to take place. Otherwise air carriers would be obliged to offset emissions despite flying less and generating less emissions than during the reference year.

The EESC welcomes global measures for global industries and calls on the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States to continue their full support and endorsement of CORSIA. The scheme is part of a package of measures designed to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment. In 2016, the ICAO Member States – including the EU – agreed to implement this scheme as the climate protection instrument in international aviation.

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