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The aviation industry has committed to hold its carbon emissions steady after 2020 and cut net carbon emissions to half of the 2005 level by 2050. Achieving these goals will require low-carbon fuels, and aviation must drive technology and policy advances to build an aviation biofuel industry with sustainability in the foreground.

In order to ensure that aviation biofuels deliver on their promise of long-term sustainability, aviation must leverage its market power and commit to robust sustainability standards in biofuel sourcing. This will incentivize upstream biofuel operators to pursue compliance and certification under prevailing sustainability standards.

With this 2014 Aviation Biofuel Sustainability Scorecard, NRDC rates progress by the industry and individual airlines on this front. With our first scorecard, in 2013, we did not identify individual airlines by name because the aviation biofuels industry was so new. This year we have decided to publish individual airline scores because some are reporting significant progress, and we believe there is value in highlighting these leading companies as potential models to support positive momentum across the sector.

The Crucial Role of Certification

It is crucial that the emerging aviation biofuel industry be built on a foundation of sustainability. Biofuels produced within a framework of sustainability criteria can provide environmental, social, and economic benefits. When produced in an unsustainable manner, they can cause severe damage to land, water, air quality, wildlife, and local communities and can even generate more greenhouse gases than their petroleum counterparts. In order to ensure that aviation biofuels deliver on their promise of longterm sustainability, the aviation industry must leverage its market power. Airlines must commit to robust sustainability standards in biofuel sourcing. This will incentivize upstream biofuel operators to pursue compliance and certification under prevailing sustainability standards.

These market signals are critical in driving adoption of sustainable practices through the supply chain. Biofuel operators are making long-term design, employment, and operational decisions to optimize production for the requirements of their marketplace, and many are now focusing on aviation as a key market. Sending a clear signal that production must be compatible with sustainability standards and independently audited and verified through credible certification programs will cause operators to proactively build this into their planning and operations.

Recommnedations

While members of the aviation sector have made some important progress to implement their sustainability commitments over the past year, NRDC believes there are enormous opportunities to do more, particularly now that credible sustainability standards, such as those adopted by the RSB, are now fully operational in the marketplace:

  • The airlines must now send clear market signals notifying current or potential suppliers of the importance of sustainability certification.
  • If they are using biofuels, airlines should make a public commitment to source 100 percent certified-sustainable biofuel.
  • The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG) and its 28 member airlines should make a firm commitment to use the certification framework created by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).
  • The airlines should strive for total transparency in the volumes, greenhouse gas profile, and sustainable certification used in aviation biofuel sourcing.
  • Airlines that do not already have dedicated biofuels staff should hire specialists to focus on this fuel.

last revised 2/3/2015

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