SAF and fuel mandates

I wrote about the trickiness of cutting subsidies which raises the cost to various groups in the society. This is effectively changing the underlying dynamics of wealth transfer in the society. Another thing that could alter the dynamics is putting some kind of regulation into the system. This tends to be less controversial when people are in agreement that the regulation is necessary. For example, getting companies to increase climate disclosure or just improve packaging labels etc would raise prices for customers as companies need to bear these costs in order to comply.

One could argue the consumers benefit from those regulations so it is fair for them to pay the price. What about when passing environmental regulations? Essentially when you first pass them, it creates benefits for parties going beyond the consumers themselves. Take the case of putting pollution control regulations on a manufacturing plant; eventually the consumers of the product of that plant is paying the cost but the ones who benefit from the regulation are the ones living near the manufacturing plant. That is when you evoke the ‘polluter pays’ principle because in this case, you are regulating away a ‘cost’ that existed in the system rather than creating a new benefit.

That brings us to the issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. I work in the field of energy transition and this is intimate linked to those problems. For one, my day job is focused on solving these issues. What I’m wondering, as the CORSIA regulations kick in to push aviation industry to decarbonise, is whether national governments will choose to spend time going out to set up agreement to enable carbon credit trade which involves corresponding adjustments, or put in fuel blending mandates for Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) which can play a role in airlines meeting CORSIA obligations.

Setting up fuel blending mandates will cost the airlines, who will then pass on the cost to the passengers. And perhaps that will reduce the tourism to the country, or perhaps it could increase the cost of doing business and hence make it less attractive for inbound investments. All of that factor causes it to be unclear who is paying the cost for the environmentalism and whether it ends up hurting the country more. Fuel blending mandate could nevertheless bring about new manufacturing jobs and opportunities that offset the job losses. And at the same time, you might attract relevant, future ready technologies to be based in your country.

Looking at the situation now, it is unlikely for SAF or other green fuels to get into the market through a supply push. The fact is that without a proper, transparent and accepted carbon price, there is no incentive to use a greener fuel that would cost more expensive. And this are green fuel that still ends up emitting carbon dioxide albeit in the short-cycle and hence considered to have zero greenhouse warming potential. Government should take the stance that they will have to mandate the blending and then manage the impact of the costs later. In this case, the ‘polluter pays’ principle could be evoked as a foundation but then various other instruments and tools can be used to cushion the impact for various groups to continue achieving economic objectives.