As Charles Michel Calls for an Energy Union, the Aviation Sector Agrees on “Aspirational Goals”: GMPB

Covered in this week’s Green Mobility Policy Briefing: Charles Michel calls for an Energy Union; Virgin Voyages is committing to sustainable waste-based marine fuels through partnerships with leading organisations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050; General approval for multilateral agreement for net-zero aviation; and Sofia. Bulgaria, to introduce low emissions zones. 

Charles Michel calls for an Energy Union. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, has suggested that to address the ongoing energy crisis caused by Putin’s “energy missile”, a genuine Energy Union needs to be established. Michel suggests the common energy strategy should have four goals; Reducing consumption, ensuring security of supply (a varied energy mix – such as solar, wind, hydrogen and geo-thermal – from varied suppliers), lowering prices and reinforcing the cohesion of one single market. In the first half of 2022 the European Union’s energy imports amounted to almost €380 billion, nearly the amount paid for the entire year prior. Moreover, the energy trade deficit is predicted to double in 2022, reaching about 5% of GDP. EU Governments have retaliated by increasing their spending to lessen the impact on the public, but this spending is not sustainable long-term and is not being invested in a greener, more secure, future – Bethan Alderson 

Virgin Voyages is committing to sustainable waste-based marine fuels through partnerships with leading organisations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In a news release published on the 21st of September 2022, Virgin Voyages have announced its commitment to developing low-carbon marine fuel alternatives to fossil fuels on-board its cruise vessels through partnerships with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), and three leading waste-based sustainable fuel suppliers: Twelve, Argent Energy, and Good Fuels. The goal of these partnerships aligns with targets set out by Virgin Voyages’ Climate Action Plan to reduce energy and to adopt and develop drop-in waste-based sustainable marine fuels through point-source and direct air capture of CO2. From the offset, the new cruise company has been dedicated to creating a sustainable commercial cruise service through investing in a fleet of cruise ships equipped with engines capable of running on lower-carbon fuels, fuel-efficient hulls, and Climeon technology to generate electricity from the heat emitted from the ship’s engine. However, challenges arise for Virgin Voyages and the maritime industry as sustainable fuels are not yet widely available, nor cost-competitive to fossil fuels, according to Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin. In achieving these aims and overcoming the challenges posed to reach its net-zero aims by 2050, Virgin Voyages recognise the need for cross-sector efforts from industry leaders and NGOs, and pro-sustainable fuel policies and incentives from governments. – Jessica Atkinson  

General approval for multilateral agreement for net-zero aviation. On Friday 7th October in Montreal, the 193 member-state International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) signed a “historic” ‘Long-term Aspiration Goal’ (LTAG) of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, aligning the aviation industry with the Paris Agreement. With 57 organisations present during the negotiations, the agreement represents a joint effort between industry leaders in aviation and national governments to work towards net-zero. The LTAG comes after previous calls by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in October 2021 to set international net-zero targets for aviation and a previous disagreement over the stringency of one of its main pillars, the Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The dispute saw the IATA concerned with the target of 85% CO2 emissions of 2019 levels, a too harsh baseline for airlines to manage in the aftermath of the pandemic. However, after the completion of a periodic review by the ICAO, the conference saw unanimous agreement for the 85% baseline which will come to force in 2024, alongside a long-term commitment to sufficiently fund SAF’s in Assistance, Capacity-building and Training for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (ACT-SAF). The IATA predicts that SAF’s could contribute to 65% of mitigation of aviation’s net-zero by 2050, while 13% could make up alternative technologies such as electricity and hydrogen, and 20% by carbon capture and offsets. The general tone of reaction in the international community is welcoming, with ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar announcing that “countries have achieved some tremendous and very important diplomatic progress at this event”. However, concerns persist over the non-binding status of the LTAG, as well as opposition from China, Russia, and Eritrea who argue it negatively impacts the growth of developing countries and no commitments from Brazil and India, collectively making up a substantial amount of pollution. Whether states can adequately finance the transition is another concern, and Director-General of the IATA Willie Walsh has warned it cannot be “accomplished on the backs of airlines alone” – Ollie Jenkins

Sofia. Bulgaria, to introduce low emissions zones. Sofia, one of the most polluted cities in Europe, has announced a landmark policy to institute low emissions zones for the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods, after struggling with high levels of air pollution. The capital will institute large ring boulevards to divert crosstown traffic, with the aim to stop older car models, which produce the most CO2, from entering the ‘small ring’ and ‘big ring’ areas of the city centre (a 2.3-kilometre radius). With help from research from Clean Air Funds, the policy should reduce excess levels of fine dust particles and smog, containing dangerous levels of nitrous oxide. When air pollution is above average, medical assistance for pneumonia conditions increases by 60% and infections of the respiratory tract by 47%. General hospitalisations also rise. Not only has air pollution been affecting the health of the population, but also the productivity, absenteeism and employee retention of high-skilled workers, costing the Bulgarian capital 13.4% of local GDP. If action is not taken, researchers estimate Sofia could lose €15.8 billion between 2019-2024, but could save €3.75 billion if the city attains a 4% yearly reduction on air pollution. The policy is predicted to be unpopular with the Bulgarian public, as Bulgaria is the poorest EU member state, meaning most private vehicles are dated and may be subject to emissions cutting measures– Bethan Alderson