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Government Sets Ambitious Goal: Aiming for 10% of Jet Fuel to be Sustainable by 2030

The government has announced a forthcoming Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Mandate, scheduled to take effect next year. This mandate will require all flights departing from the UK to utilize at least 10 percent sustainable-certified fuel by 2030. Once approved by parliament, this mandate is expected to boost the production capacity of SAF in the UK significantly.

The 2030 target aims to supply approximately 1.2 million tonnes of SAF to the UK airline industry annually, which could encircle the globe 3,000 times. SAFs, derived from various waste or organic sources, are already being used in limited quantities by several leading airlines. 

Proponents suggest that these fuels can reduce lifecycle emissions by around 70 percent compared to traditional jet fuels, thus playing a pivotal role in the aviation sector's ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Despite these advantages, critics remain skeptical about the ability of all SAFs to deliver the promised emissions reductions. There are also concerns about whether the sector can secure enough sustainable feedstocks to significantly decarbonize aviation.

Nevertheless, the government has emphasized the importance of SAFs in its Jet Zero Strategy. Alongside announcing the 2030 target, the government has launched a consultation to stimulate investment in SAF production plants. This consultation outlines various options for a SAF revenue certainty scheme, with a preferred option being a guaranteed strike price (GSP) that would give producers confidence in the price they will receive for their SAF.

While SAFs cost more than conventional jet fuels, proponents believe economies of scale will drive down costs over time, making SAFs more competitive in the aviation fuel market.

The government said the sector could add over £1.8 billion to the economy and create over 10,000 jobs nationwide. It also committed to a review mechanism to help manage SAF prices and minimise the impact on ticket fares for passengers. "The government also has the power to change key limits within the mandate to block higher price rises in the case of SAF shortages - keeping the impact on consumers to a minimum," it said.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said SAFs would "protect the future of UK aviation, the thousands of British jobs that depend on it, and the holidays and business travel flights that we rely on."

"As part of our plan to grow the economy, the measures announced today will give both UK aviation and the UK SAF industry the certainty they need to keep creating skilled British jobs while giving passengers the freedom to continue travelling by air in a way that's fit for the future," he added.

The aviation industry broadly welcomed the new target and consultation. Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: "Sustainable aviation fuel is a key part of the decarbonisation of air travel, and a domestic SAF industry will create jobs and wealth and help the UK secure its energy independence. We are pleased that the government has brought forward proposals for a mandate and revenue certainty scheme that will send the message to investors that the UK is serious about developing its own production facilities."

Her comments were echoed by Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, who said UK airlines regard a SAF mandate as "a vital step towards the net zero transition." However, he warned it was "vital that government now puts the right measures in place to incentivise production and reduce the cost of SAF as seen in the EU and US, as quickly as possible, adding that without such measures, the UK would be "at a competitive disadvantage with consumers at risk of higher fares."

Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Transport Fuel Association, said the policy should significantly boost the green fuels sector. "The mandate, in combination with guaranteed pricing, will see the UK start to produce SAF within the next couple of years," she said. "There are many ways of making SAF, and all have a vital role to play. Many of the plants our members will build will be ground-breaking, first-of-a-kind installations. The UK policy aims specifically to encourage SAF made from wastes, which presents an opportunity for innovation and ultimately the export of technology and expertise."

However, Cait Hewitt, policy director at the Aviation Environment Federation, questioned the efficacy of many of the SAFs that are currently available. "Both ministers and the aviation industry would like to make out that alternative fuels will be the big solution for tackling aviation emissions," she said. "But the truth is that these fuels will be in limited supply, and most of them will be produced using wastes. That doesn't even reduce CO2; it just takes carbon, like plastic bottles, that's laying in a rubbish dump and puts it back in the atmosphere. So it's actually not even sustainable.

"If this mandate means the Government finally acknowledges that the aviation emissions problem can't be solved without some policy action, then perhaps it's a step in the right direction. But what we really need is a reduction in aviation emissions. A percentage mandate for alternative fuel in an industry hungry for growth can't guarantee that. So, for the time being, it remains the case that the best way to cut emissions from flying is to fly less."

She also questioned who would pay for the proposed revenue certainty mechanism, arguing, "The important thing is that it is airlines, not the public, who pay for any fuels or technologies designed to help cut emissions."

"With no tax on aircraft fuel and no effective emissions charges for flights outside Europe, it's about time we made the polluters pay," she added.

The government remains fiercely resistant to calls for policies that may curb flight numbers, stating today that the new SAF Mandate was "part of our approach to ensure that the rationing of flights through 'demand management' is ruled out."


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