The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has agreed on a new plan to increase the share of biofuels in aviation and reduce the industry’s carbon emissions.

The plan, titled ‘2050 Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuels’, was formalised at the second ICAO conference on aviation and alternative fuels, held in Mexico on 11-13 October, the organisation said in a 16 October statement.

The use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) was split into three milestones at 2020, 2040 and 2050, with SAF usage goals set at an annual 5M tonnes, 128M tonnes and 285M tonnes, respectively.

According to ICAO council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, the new plan was needed, as the current progress being made to reduce aviation emissions would be insufficient to meet the sector’s 2020 targets, despite current technological innovation and streamlined operations.

“Even after these have been accounted for, we are still left with a significant mitigation requirement. Sustainable alternative fuels are critical to closing this gap,” Aliu said.

The 2050 plan considered replacing 50% of current conventional fuel use with SAF an achievable goal, should states give their full support to developing technology and enacting favourable energy policies, including incentivising the use and production of SAF.

At the 50% rate, the plan would reduce emissions from international aviation by 33% by 2050 and it also laid out a goal of achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards.

Aliu noted that several airports had begun offering SAF to interested airlines and that the approach had led to more than 40,000 SAF- powered flights since their introduction.

“Through these numerous actions, the aviation sector has now supplied the proof of concept for sustainable aviation fuels, confirming their operational viability and the feasibility of producing them in sustainable ways, which lessen the impact of aviation on the climate,” he said.

However, a group of environmental and climate NGOs from 25 ICAO member states voiced their opposition to the plan, urging the members of the organisation to reject the plan.

According to a letter submitted to the ICAO by the NGOs, the growth in aviation biofuels would be achieved through an increased reliance on palm oil as it is the cheapest currently available vegetable oil, which they claimed would lead to increased deforestation and environmental pressure.