Decarbonizing Aviation

New CLEE report assesses policy options for boosting sustainable airplane travel in California

Register for our free webinar on this topic on Monday, November 7th, 9-10am PT (details below).

What actions can California policy makers take to help decarbonize the aviation sector? CLEE is today releasing a new report, Clean Takeoff: Policy Solutions to Promote Sustainable Aviation in California, which offers recommendations for progress.

Airplane travel is responsible for more than 2 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, with non-CO₂ emissions raising the total climate impact further. While no existing zero-emission technologies can power all flights today, sustainable aviation fuel represents the most promising and immediate solution to reduce aviation emissions — and it will remain key to decarbonizing long-haul aviation, even in 2050.

In response, Governor Newsom called for a 20 percent clean fuels target for the aviation sector in July 2022, and the steps described in Clean Takeoff could help the state achieve those goals while maximizing air quality and economic co-benefits in communities near airports and production facilities.

Based on input from a stakeholder convening of industry leaders, advocates, academics and other stakeholders, Clean Takeoff recommends that state leaders, including the governor, Air Resources Board and legislature, boost in-state sustainable aviation fuels by:

  • Developing a comprehensive long-term plan to decarbonize in-state aviation fuels by a firm deadline
  • Taxing or levying a carbon fee on conventional aviation fuel and using the proceeds to fund research and development, where consistent with federal law
  • Creating a standalone, mandatory low carbon fuel standard exclusively for aviation fuels, where consistent with federal law
  • Implementing permit-streamlining pathways for priority sustainable aviation fuels
  • Drafting a comprehensive sustainable aviation fuel feedstock sustainability framework
  • Facilitating offtake agreements, contracts-for-differences (where the government pays the fuel producer any difference between the market price and a contractual floor for a set period of time), low-interest loans, and commercial partnerships to boost sustainable aviation fuel supply and demand

In addition to boosting near-term sustainable aviation fuel, these actions can simultaneously support development of long-term solutions, such as electrification, hydrogen fuels, and improved airframe design, among others.

Ultimately, California is well positioned to advance these technologies and fuels, given its pioneering role developing programs that have boosted on-road zero-emission vehicles, as well as its position as a major economy with 12 international airports and numerous in-state flights.

To achieve this vision, state leaders will need to engage all stakeholders, including airlines, airports, affected communities, labor, and agricultural leaders, in order to boost a market for sustainable aviation that can scale globally.

To learn more, register for our free webinar on Monday, November 7, 9-10am PT, featuring:

  • Dan Adler, California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank
  • Nikita Pavlenko, The International Council on Clean Transportation
  • Erin Cooke, San Francisco International Airport

Read Clean Takeoff: Policy Solutions to Promote Sustainable Aviation in California

This post was co-authored by Katie Segal.

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About Ethan

Ethan Elkind is the Director of the Climate Change and Business Program, with a joint appointment at UC Berkeley School of Law and UCLA School of Law. In this capacity, h…

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