Clean TAKEOFF: Policy Solutions to Promote Sustainable Aviation in California

December 1, 2022

clean takeoffThis report is the result of an expert stakeholder convening held by UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) in January 2022 to develop sustainable aviation fuel policies in California. CLEE thanks the ClimateWorks Foundation and Transportation Program Manager Lina Fedirko for their generous support and guidance in this initiative. CLEE also thanks Amy Malaki, former Associate Director at ClimateWorks, for her significant leadership in this initiative. AUTHORS: Ethan N. Elkind DIRECTOR - CLIMATE PROGRAM CENTER FOR LAW, ENERGY & THE ENVIRONMENT Katie Segal RESEARCH FELLOW - CLIMATE & OCEANS CENTER FOR LAW, ENERGY & THE ENVIRONMENT Ted Lamm SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW - CLIMATE CENTER FOR LAW, ENERGY & THE ENVIRONMENT 

Executive Summary and Introduction:

Airplane travel is essential for mobility, economic development, and quality of life. Yet the sector emits approximately 915 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) each year, accounting for 2.1 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions.1  Non-CO₂ emissions raise the total impact further, accounting for approximately two-thirds of aviation’s overall climate impact. Lowering the emissions intensity of aviation will be a critical, if challenging, piece of the transition to a sustainable advanced economy.

Aviation’s future contribution to global emissions will depend on the popularity of air travel, trends in the shipping of goods, and the industry’s ability to adopt lower-emission aircraft and fuels alongside other decarbonization measures. To achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century and avert the worst impacts of climate change, policy makers and industry will need to reduce aviation emissions.

Due to the singular technical challenges of aviation, aircraft decarbonization technologies are not yet as common as similar technologies in other major emitting sectors like transportation and electricity. Until these technologies (such as electrification, hydrogen fuels, and improved airframe design, among others) are accessible and mature, sustainable aviation fuel, largely derived from low-carbon biofuels, represents the most promising decarbonization option. This report focuses on bolstering low-carbon biofuels for aviation, while also encouraging longer-term solutions including non-biogenic fuels, hydrogen, and electric-powered planes, as part of the broader sustainable aviation movement.

California is uniquely suited to be a global leader in sustainable aviation. The state has ambitious goals to decarbonize its economy by 2045, including programs (like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard) that leaders can tailor to include sustainable aviation fuel. The state also hosts 12 international airports and numerous in-state flights, presenting opportunities for regulatory and incentive programs. 

Yet California lacks a comprehensive plan to decarbonize aviation, missing an opportunity to promote sustainable aviation globally at a critical moment. This gap is despite Governor Gavin Newsom’s July 2022 call for a 20 percent clean fuels target for the aviation sector, along with modifications to the state’s transit fuel program (the Low Carbon Fuel Standard) that could facilitate the transition to clean fuel production.2 To address this challenge, the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at UC Berkeley School of Law convened experts from the aviation sector, sustainable aviation fuel industry, academia, advocacy groups, airports, and state government to identify barriers and recommend solutions. While the group did not agree on all the recommendations in this report, many of the solutions here received widespread support from participants. Notably, airline industry participants in particular objected to recommendations that involve state-based mandates for sustainable aviation fuel, which they argued are preempted by federal law. While a thorough discussion of federal preemption on aviation preemption is beyond the scope of this report, policymakers would need to craft any solution discussed in this report in a manner that would withstand legal challenges to state authority. Ultimately, the group envisioned a strategy for decarbonizing aviation in California that would:

• Support net greenhouse gas emission reductions from the aviation sector by emphasizing in-sector reductions rather than offsets.

• Maximize air quality and economic co-benefits in communities near airports and production facilities.

• Incentivize lower-carbon liquid fuels and advance new electric and hydrogen technologies for shorter regional and in-state flights.

• Maintain affordable, equitable access to air travel for consumers by ensuring financial sustainability and equitable distribution of cost burdens (including by non-residents of California).

• Provide all airlines with access to sustainable aviation fuel supplies.

• Engage the agricultural community to promote appropriate and sustainable production practices.

• Foster clean energy jobs regionally and locally.

• Build in-state sustainable aviation fuel use and production capacity while catalyzing the national market and federal policy goals.

The participants then identified three priority barriers to realizing the vision, along with recommended solutions to overcome each one. 

Read the full report: