Swift global policy action needed for aviation’s energy transition

DUBAI, 14 November 2023 – A shift from fossil fuels to sustainable aviation fuels is possible, necessary and urgent in order to meet the air transport sector’s essential climate change commitments, according to aviation industry experts. As Governments prepare to meet in Dubai next week at the third Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3), convened by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations specialised agency, the industry has voiced its support for a transition away from fossil fuels.

Executive Director of the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group, Haldane Dodd said: “Last year, governments adopted one of the first net zero carbon goals for any global sector. Reaching this objective by 2050 is going to be a significant challenge, but one that is achievable if a collaborative effort is made. Vital to that net zero trajectory will be an energy transition in aviation, from today’s fossil fuels to an almost complete replacement with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2050. As we also work on energy efficiency and new technology options, the CAAF/3 meeting will focus on SAF as the most crucial element of the net zero pathway.

“There are two key outcomes we would like to see from the Conference: a goal for SAF deployment which can provide investment certainty to the finance markets and influence policy actions around the world; and a supportive global framework which will ensure countries everywhere can take advantage of the opportunities to build new energy industries and secure jobs in supplying SAF.”

  • The transition to SAF is already underway, with policy measures being implemented or discussed in around 40 countries. Aviation industry experts say that supportive policies will be crucial to speeding up the development and supply of SAF in other countries around the world.
  • On Friday last week, the members of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines committed to at least 5% of their fuel being SAF in 2030. There are now 50 airlines representing over 40% of global air traffic committed to more than 5% of their own fuel use being SAF in 2030. Many have set a goal of 10% and some are up to 30% by 2030.
  • Airlines, operators and corporate partners currently have around $45 billion in forward purchase agreements for SAF, an increase from $6 billion pre-Covid.
  • There are currently eight pathways certified for SAF production that can be used in commercial flights, with an additional seven being assessed in the next 2-5 years. Additional ‘co-processing’ pathways can boost the menu of options for SAF production further. This points to a variety of options when it comes to SAF production around the world, from waste resources to non-food energy crops, to SAF generated from renewable electricity.
  • Around 10 facilities are currently producing SAF, but by 2029 over 150 projects in 35 countries are being explored that could be used for SAF production. Analysis suggests it is plausible that up to 23 million tonnes of SAF could be delivered by 2030, although with additional support in the coming two years this could raise further.

“Other parts of our decarbonisation strategy – including continuous improvements in technology, operational efficiencies and the exciting possibilities of hydrogen and electric flight – will all be important. But every piece of analysis shows that SAF is the most impactful way to cut aviation’s carbon emissions before 2050. The SAF scale-up has begun. Over 10 times more SAF was delivered to airlines in 2022 than in 2019. That pace of development will continue but needs to accelerate significantly to keep in line with the industry’s path to net zero.

“Three things are needed to make the aviation energy transition happen: government policy to support supply and create certainty for demand; financing of the potentially $1.5 trillion in infrastructure capital needed to supply SAF at the scale required; and a serious effort by the traditional energy sector to shift their products from fossil to sustainable fuels. We believe that the CAAF/3 meeting can set the scene for these developments and help catalyse the transition in aviation. These are tough decisions and complex challenges, but necessary ones to progress as climate change makes its impacts felt.

“Whilst there has been much progress on SAF in Europe and North America in particular, if we are to decarbonise air transport around the world, we will also need to ensure an adequate SAF supply around the world. A global framework from CAAF/3 will help capacity building and access to finance so that countries everywhere can build SAF industries of their own. Enormous value can be created in diversifying and democratising energy supply if Governments grasp the opportunities ahead of them.”


The industry approach is laid out in five working papers (WPs) that will be delivered to the CAAF/3 meeting (and which are available to view on the ATAG website

  • WP/34 outlines near-term SAF projections. The most recent ICAO analysis suggests up to 23 Mt of SAF being delivered in 2030 is plausible. Some 50 airlines (representing over 40% of global traffic) have now committed to 5% or more of their fuel being SAF in 2030. More than $45 billion in offtake agreements are already signed, with more coming every day. On the policy front, existing and proposed policy measures in 40 countries will require at least 20 Mt of SAF in 2030. We have another 18-24 months to really boost this early action.
  • WP/23 explores the industry’s preferred policy options that could be implemented at a national or regional level according to local conditions. No country is the same and no country’s policy response will be the same as another. The role of a robust and transparent SAF accounting mechanism is also shown to be an important factor in ensuring no country is left behind in the opportunities that exist in SAF scale-up.
  • WP/24 examines the central role of capacity building to encourage new SAF industries to develop and thrive in countries all over the world. A report developed for ATAG, Fueling Net Zero, identified that up to 14 million jobs could be sustained or created by the transition to SAF, with 90% in the feedstock supply chain.
  • WP/25 is about finance which will play a central role in the transition. Estimates range from $1.5 trillion to $3.2 trillion for SAF infrastructure development and both ICAO and ATAG have been actively reaching out to the finance community already this year. The message from them is the need for demand certainty and de-risking – a Vision can help be part of the solution to that, backing up airline voluntary measures and instigating national policy to help provide a robust investment case.
  • And WP/33 provides an industry view on the ICAO Vision that will help spur investment and policy around the world. Our ask is bold – to reach 2050 with the liquid fuel we use being 80% less carbon intensive than the fossil fuel we use today. This will necessitate an almost complete transition away from fossil fuels and towards SAF.