EU planning sustainable fuel target to cut airline emissions

BRUSSELS/PARIS, Dec 9 (Reuters) - The European Commission is drawing up targets for airlines to use a minimum share of sustainable fuels, it said on Wednesday, after dropping a draft 5% goal that it deemed too low.

The pledge came as the EU executive outlined measures to tackle transport's climate impact, including a goal previously reported by Reuters to have 30 million zero-emission vehicles on Europe's roads by 2030.

A late draft had included the 5% share of low-carbon fuels to be reached by airlines in 2030, rising to above 60% in 2050. Both targets were cut from the published version.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said the Commission now intended to set higher goals for sustainable aviation fuel.

"We will come out with an ambitious proposal later, because we thought we could do better than what was written in the initial draft," Timmermans said.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which can be produced from biomass or renewable energy, currently account for less than 1% of Europe's jet fuel consumption.

Their uptake has been stunted by high costs and weak demand from airlines, which have traditionally opposed mandated quotas. The industry's position is, however, evolving amid increasing scrutiny of its environmental impact.

"The EU proposal for a SAF mandate could, under certain conditions, be a positive development in providing a degree of certainty to the market and driving production," said Michael Gill, head of ATAG, a global aviation sector lobby group.

Those conditions include policy support for SAF development and avoiding anti-competitive effects, Gill said.

Finland, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden are among European states already considering their own binding targets.

The EU plan would also seek to make transport services carbon-neutral for journeys under 500 kms (310 miles), encouraging a shift from air to rail.

Campaigners such as clean energy group Transport and Environment urged the EU to promote hydrogen produced with renewable energy over biofuels that can worsen deforestation.

Brussels also wants zero-emission large aircraft to be market-ready by 2035, a deadline Airbus has set itself to put a carbon-free plane into service. 

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