Aviation decarbonization is an opportunity to fight climate change. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), CO2 emissions from air transport increased by nearly 70% between 2005 and 2019, from 373 million tons to 635 million tons. The aviation sector is still very dependent on fossil fuels. Fossil fuel is the main source of CO2 emissions in the sector. Given that air traffic is expected to increase by 2050, some believe it is legitimate to invest in decarbonizing this sector.
There are several avenues for development: improving the energy efficiency of aircraft, introducing sustainable biofuels and developing innovative technologies, such as electric or hydrogen aircraft. However, today, the development of these technologies is still at an early stage and requires significant investment and adaptation.
In France, the challenge of decarbonizing aviation seems to be taken seriously. The government has set up “France 2030”, an investment plan for France that amounts to 54 billion euros, with the objective of catching up with French industry, investing in innovative technologies and supporting the ecological transition. As part of this program, it is agreed to commit from 2023 the sum of 435 million euros precisely for the decarbonization of aviation. The idea is to promote the emergence of a sustainable fuel industry, less dependent on imports. This fuel could be composed of elements from renewable raw materials such as agricultural waste, vegetable oils or algae.
French President Emmanuel Macron has stated that his goal is to improve research on decarbonization, and thus create the first low-carbon aircraft by 2030. In addition, ADEME has launched a call for projects on the “development of a French production sector for sustainable aviation fuels” in 2021 as part of this investment plan.
However, according to several researchers, the decarbonization of aviation does not necessarily seem to be enough to meet the objective of carbon neutrality in France by 2050. Aurélien Bigo, a researcher at the Louis Bachelier Institute, has written a thesis on this subject, in which he explains that technical developments will not be enough, and that we need to change the way we travel. Reducing traffic alone would make it possible to respect the Paris Climate Agreement. Other researchers believe that biofuel is still too expensive an alternative, with its price being 1.5 or even 2 times higher than the price of kerosene.