New Certificates Offer Flyers a Sustainable Fuel Option to Cut CO2
Aviation is one of the world’s most carbon-intensive sectors and one of the hardest to decarbonize. Now, however, a new framework has been developed by a wide range of industry partners to cut emissions by stimulating the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) via a system of certificates.
Developed through the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow (CST) initiative, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Certificate (SAFc) system is a new accounting tool that will allow SAF emissions reductions to be claimed by the traveller if they cover the higher cost of the fuel. The system works within standard “book and claim” processes, which will allow the actual SAF to be delivered to the airport nearest its production plant.
“Clean Skies for Tomorrow was founded to accelerate the deployment of SAF and aviation’s net-zero pathway,” says Pedro Gomez, Head of Shaping the Future of Mobility, World Economic Forum. “Consumer demand for sustainable air travel is a critical part of that pathway and SAFc was specifically designed to enable a clear and consistent market demand signal.”
The new certificate mechanism is initially designed for corporations with significant air travel and freight footprints but can be expanded in due course.
Why sustainable aviation fuel?
SAFc is an important milestone on the path to carbon-neutral flying. There are benefits for both airlines and customers since SAF is the most promising way to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint in the near term.
Because jet fuel packs a lot of energy for its weight, it is hard to find feasible options for long-distance commercial flight. Hybrid-electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft may help one day, but their development and deployment at scale could take 10 to 20 years and the technology will likely be limited to smaller, shorter-range aircraft, even in the long term.
By contrast, SAF – made from biogenic feedstocks such as waste cooking oil, agricultural residues and municipal waste – is available now and is compatible with existing aircraft and fuelling infrastructure.
With existing technologies, SAF can reduce GHG emissions by up to 80% on a life-cycle emissions basis. However, next-generation SAF technologies, such as Power-to-liquid, which use recycled CO2 and carbon-capture technologies, are already in development and could offer overall reduction in emissions to 100% if using a fully decarbonised supply chain.
The challenge is that SAF is two to five times the price of conventional jet fuel and can be more. As a result, SAF accounts for only 0.1% of fuel used in aircraft worldwide. Such limited availability and high prices deter the investment to scale up production, which is needed to drive down prices and enable greater uptake.
Solving this conundrum requires a significant demand stimulus – exactly what the SAFc mechanism aims to provide. This kind of intervention is particularly critical during the pandemic recovery given the aviation industry’s perilous financial state that leaves it unable to subsidize increased use of SAF on its own.
“This is the time for innovation in aviation emissions reduction. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) provides the most promising solution to reducing aviation emissions, yet today, demand for SAF far outstrips supply,” says Jules Kortenhorst, CEO, RMI. “The World Economic Forum and RMI have developed SAFc to enable ambitious corporations to address emissions from flying while sending a strong demand signal and catalyzing new SAF production.”
“By purchasing these certificates, companies and private individuals contribute to emission reductions in aviation,” says Joukje Janssen, Partner, PwC Netherlands, “because these purchases generate new income for the accelerated increase of SAF production capacity.”
Before the pandemic, aviation was responsible for about 3% of global carbon emissions, with an even larger overall climatic effect when taking into account impacts such as nitrogen oxide and contrails. COVID-19 has caused a massive slump in both air travel and emissions. Demand, however, is predicted to recover in the 2020s, making this the pivotal moment to put in place a system to transition the industry to more sustainable energy use.
Significantly, corporations have already indicated a willingness to pay more for employees’ sustainable travel practices and the SAFc provides a tailor-made mechanism for firms to take leadership in doing this. In fact, input from stakeholders in the CST initiative suggests that corporate demand alone can cover one-third of the price premium associated with reaching the International Air Transport Association’s 2025 global SAF volume target of 2% (6-7 billion litres).
In terms of ticket prices, feedback from many of the CST’s aviation-customer partners indicates that a 5%-10% increase in airfares would be acceptable, provided this delivers a significant and verifiable decrease in emissions.
Some companies within the CST coalition are already piloting the approach of paying more for SAF, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Deloitte, Deutsche Post DHL Group, Microsoft, BCG, Neste and SkyNRG. In the case of Microsoft, for example, an agreement with Alaska and SkyNRG applies to CO2 emissions from employee travel between Seattle and three Californian airports.
How does the SAFc system work?
For the SAFc system to function smoothly and at scale, it requires a robust tracking and verification process as well as a registry to ensure that climate-related claims are legitimate and only claimed by a single party.
This kind of virtual accounting system is already well-established in renewable electricity markets via energy attribute certificates (EACs) and guarantees of origin (GoO) – an important model for the new SAFc framework. These established mechanisms, which verify that electricity is generated from an eligible renewable source, have been instrumental in accelerating renewable electricity investment by allowing companies to claim the resulting environmental benefits without producing electricity themselves.
Over the next year, the development of the SAFc framework will shift into its next phase, including additional SAFc pilot transactions and finalization of a full emissions accounting system.
Mission Possible Partnership
Clean Skies for Tomorrow is part of the Mission Possible Partnership, a coalition of public and private partners working on the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions by mid-century.
Largest river and wetland restoration initiative in history launched at UN Water Conference
A coalition of governments today launched the Freshwater Challenge – the largest ever initiative to restore degraded rivers, lakes and wetlands, which are central to tackling the world’s worsening water, climate and nature crises.
Announced at the UN Water Conference in New York, the Freshwater Challenge aims to restore 300,000km of rivers – equivalent to more than 7 times around the Earth – and 350 million hectares of wetlands – an area larger than India – by 2030.
Along with water supplies, healthy freshwater ecosystems provide a wealth of benefits to people and nature, and are critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet one-third of the world’s wetlands have been lost over the past 50 years, and we are still losing them faster than forests. Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems in the world, with fish populations, many of which are vital for community food security, pushed to the brink.
Released this week, the IPCC’s sixth assessment report outlines the serious impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems, highlighting the need to protect and restore them to enhance adaptation and build resilient societies, economies and ecosystems.
Championed by the governments of Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia, the Freshwater Challenge calls on all governments to commit to clear targets in their updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, National Determined Contributions and National Implementation Plan for the SDGs to urgently restore healthy freshwater ecosystems.
Susana Muhamad, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia: said”This initiative is in line with the priorities of the National Development Plan 2022-2026, which will allow the country to strengthen Territorial Planning around Water by protecting all water systems from a perspective of water as a common resource and fundamental right. This implies the participation of communities to resolve socio-environmental conflicts, respecting cultural diversity and guaranteeing the conservation of biodiversity”.
The Freshwater Challenge is a country-driven initiative with an inclusive, collaborative approach to implementation, where governments and their partners will co-create freshwater solutions with indigenous people, local communities, and other stakeholders.
Building on the Global Biodiversity Framework agreed in Montreal in December 2022, which included the restoration of 30% of the world’s degraded ‘inland waters’, the Challenge will contribute to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The UN Decade is a drive to revive our planet, co-led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director said, “Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands underpin our societies and economies, yet they are routinely undervalued and overlooked. That is what makes the commitment by the governments of Colombia, DR Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia so commendable. While countries have pledged to restore one billion hectares of land, the Freshwater Challenge is a critical first step in bringing a much-needed focus on freshwater ecosystems.”
Stuart Orr, Freshwater Lead at WWF International said, “The clearest sign of the damage we have done – and are still doing – to our rivers, lakes and wetlands is the staggering 83% collapse in freshwater species populations since 1970. The Freshwater Challenge puts the right goals and frameworks in place to turn this around – benefiting not only nature but also people across the world. We need governments and partners to commit to this urgently as part of the Water Action Agenda coming out of this UN conference.”
The Freshwater Challenge will focus on providing the evidence needed at country level to effectively design and implement restoration measures, identify priority areas for restoration, update relevant national strategies and plans, and mobilise resources and set up financial mechanisms to implement the targets.
Championed by the coalition of countries, the Freshwater Challenge is supported by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, WWF, IUCN, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International and ABinBev.
Clouds in the sky provide new clues to predicting climate change
While barely being given a second thought by most people, the masses of condensed water vapour floating in the atmosphere play a big role in global warming.
By MICHAEL ALLEN
Predicting how much Earth’s climate will warm is vital to helping humankind prepare for the future. That in turn requires tackling a prime source of uncertainty in forecasting global warming: clouds.
Some clouds contribute to cooling by reflecting part of the Sun’s energy back into space. Others contribute to warming by acting like a blanket and trapping some of the energy of Earth’s surface, amplifying the greenhouse effect.
‘Clouds interact very strongly with climate,’ said Dr Sandrine Bony, a climatologist and director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris.
They influence the structure of the atmosphere, impacting everything from temperature and humidity to atmospheric circulations.
And in turn the climate influences where and what types of clouds form, according to Bony, a lead author of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning assessment report in 2007 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
So many processes and feedback loops can affect climate change that it’s helpful to break down the issue into smaller parts.
‘Every time we manage to better understand one of the pieces, we decrease the uncertainty of the whole problem,’ said Bony, who coordinated the EU-funded EUREC4A project that ended last year.
A number of years ago, Bony and her colleagues discovered that small, fluffy clouds common in trade wind regions cause some of the largest levels of uncertainty in climate models. These clouds are known as trade cumulus.
While trade cumulus clouds are small and relatively unspectacular, they are numerous and very widely found in the tropics, according to Bony. Because there are so many of these clouds, what happens to them potentially has a huge impact on climate.
EUREC4A used drones, aircraft and satellites to observe trade cumulus clouds and their interactions with the atmosphere over the western Atlantic Ocean, near Barbados.
Many models assume that the structure and number of these clouds will change significantly as the global temperature warms, leading to possible feedback loops that amplify or dampen climate change. The models that project a strong reduction in such clouds as temperatures rise tend to predict a higher degree of global warming.
But Bony and her colleagues discovered that trade cumulus clouds change much less than expected as the atmosphere warms.
‘In a way, it is good news because a process that we thought could be responsible for a large amplification of global warming does not seem to exist,’ she said. More importantly, it means that climatologists can now use models that more accurately represent the behaviour of these clouds when predicting the effect of climate change.
Reducing this element of uncertainty in forecasts of the global extent of warming will make predictions of local impacts such as heatwaves in Europe more precise, according to Bony.
‘The increase in the frequency of heatwaves very much depends on the magnitude of global warming,’ she said. ‘And the magnitude of global warming depends very much on the response of clouds.’
Water and ice
Meanwhile, Professor Trude Storelvmo, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Oslo in Norway, has been exploring the processes inside a different type of cloud – mixed-phased clouds – to help improve climate models.
She is fascinated by how processes in clouds that occur on a tiny, micrometre scale can have such a big influence on global-scale atmospheric and climate processes.
Mixed-phase clouds contain both liquid water and ice and are responsible for the majority of rainfall across the globe. In recent years, it has become clear that they also play an important role in climate change.
Storelvmo coordinated the EU-funded MC2 project, which ran for five years until last month and unearthed new details about how mixed-phase clouds react to higher temperatures. The results highlight the urgency of transitioning to a low-carbon society.
The more liquid water that mixed-phased clouds contain, the more reflective they are. And by reflecting more radiation from the sun away from the Earth, they cool the atmosphere.
‘As the atmosphere warms, these clouds tend to shift away from ice and towards liquid,’ said Storelvmo. ‘What happens then is the clouds also become more reflective and they have a stronger cooling effect.’
But some years ago, Storelvmo and colleagues discovered that most global climate models overestimate this effect. MC2 flew balloons into mixed-phase clouds and used remote sensing data from satellites to probe their structure and composition.
The researchers discovered that current climate models tend to make the mix of water and ice in mixed-phase clouds more uniform and less complex than in real clouds, leading to overestimations of the amount of ice in the clouds.
Because these model clouds have more ice to lose, when simulations warm them the shift in reflectiveness is greater than in real clouds, according to Storelvmo. This means the models overestimate the dampening effect that mixed-phase clouds have on climate change.
When the team plugged the more realistic cloud data into climate models and subjected it to simulated warming, they made another important finding: the increase in the reflectiveness of mixed-phased clouds weakens with warming.
While with moderate warming the dampening effect on higher temperatures is quite strong, this is no longer the case as warming intensifies.
There comes a point when the ice in the cloud has all melted and the cooling effect weakens – and then completely vanishes. Exactly when this starts to happen is a question for future research.
But, according to Storelvmo, this reinforces the need for urgent reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
‘Our findings suggest that if we just let greenhouse-gas emissions continue, it won’t just be a linear and gradual warming – there could be a rapidly accelerating warming when you get to a certain point,’ she said. ‘We really need to avoid reaching that point at all costs.’
As new findings on clouds such as these are integrated into models, climate predictions used by policymakers will become more refined.
Research in this article was funded via the EU’s European Research Council (ERC). The article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Kazakhstan Discusses Ways for Achieving Carbon Neutrality and Building Resilience
Today the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan jointly with the World Bank and Kazakhstan Association “ECOJER” launched a series of policy dialogues to support Kazakhstan in implementing its critical climate and environmental strategies, including the transition to a low-carbon economy, air quality management, and resilience to climate change. The first of the workshop series held today focused on supporting Kazakhstan’s transition to carbon neutrality by 2060.
Kazakhstan made a bold leap forward on a newly charted course for the country’s development by adopting The Strategy on Achieving Carbon Neutrality by 2060. Approved by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan on February 2, 2023, the strategy sets ambitious net-zero carbon goals for climate action and identifies key technological transformations needed for the country’s decarbonization. To achieve these transformations, the country will require determining and implementing effective and targeted policies and programs across the whole of the country’s economy.
“Our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint and use the benefits of sustainable economic growth, improved public health and reduced climate risks. Net investment in low-carbon technologies is estimated at $610 billion. This will certainly lead to the emergence of new and expanding existing markets and niches for domestic manufacturers, and stimulate the creation of high-skilled jobs,” said Alibek Kuantyrov, Minister of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Participants of the first policy dialogue discussed a roadmap for the implementation of the government policies, measures, and investments in support of the approved strategy. The event also provided a forum for the experts to share best practices and experience in low-carbon policy implementation in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland.
“The recently adopted strategy for Kazakhstan’s transition to carbon neutrality attests to the government’s resolve to pivot towards a growth model that is driven less by fossil fuels and more by investments in climate-smart industries in water, agriculture, and rangelands management. This broad economic transformation will require an enabling environment centered on policies, investments, and ensuring a just transition for people and communities,” says Andrei Mikhnev, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan.
To help Kazakhstan prioritize the most impactful actions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost climate change adaptation while delivering on broader development goals and carbon-neutral future, the World Bank recently published Kazakhstan Country Climate and Development Report. The report suggests main pathways to support Kazakhstan’s low-carbon, resilient transition.
“Reduction of greenhouse emissions is a non-alternative course for Kazakhstan and there is an obvious need for legislative instruments. Today, government agencies need to develop the implementation roadmap, and the industry needs to get clear messages – in which direction they will move in the coming decades and what kind of support from the government they can count on. Such dialogues needed to ensure a balance of interests of state bodies and institutions, to identify business opportunities, and get knowledge of the best world experience, so that we can achieve our goals and improve the environmental situation in the country,”said Lazzat Ramazanova, Chairman of the Council of the Kazakhstan Association “ECOJER”.
The policy dialogues series aims to provide a robust platform for multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral engagement. By bringing together Kazakhstan’s government agencies, the private sector, civil society, academia, international development organizations, and the world’s leading experts, the dialogues aim to foster collaboration and action to accelerate the implementation of Kazakhstan’s carbon neutrality targets as well as low-emission development strategy, international climate action commitments, and adaptation measures. The focus of the series’ next policy dialogues scheduled in April and June 2023 will be on air pollution reduction and climate change adaptation in support of Kazakhstan’s climate and development goals.
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