If aviation were a country, it’d be the world’s 7th largest carbon emitter. By 2020, global aviation emissions will be about 70% higher than in 2005 and by 2050 they could grow by a whopping 700%. What can you do as an individual? The obvious answer is not much — but that would be defeatist.
As the world’s middle-class swells, so do the number of flights they take. Air passengers are expected to double by 2040, and carbon emissions may not be far behind them. Without radical improvements, aviation will soon creep up the rankings to be one of the world’s worst global emitters.
The good news is that today’s flights emit about as half as much CO2 as they did in 1990. But further efficiencies and technological breakthroughs are desperately needed if the industry is to reach its 2016 goal of capping carbon emissions, let alone start the necessary business of reducing them.
What is the aviation industry (not) doing?
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), starting in the decidedly unambitious year of 2027, all international flights will be required to offset emissions over 2020 levels — either directly or through purchasing credits. The initiative is called CORSIA, which stands for Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. Think of it like a lower than normal flight path… Emissions won’t be allowed to go any higher, but they won’t go any lower, either. That’s the future plan anyway. Most environmental groups don’t think it goes anywhere near far enough. They’re right.
What can airlines do?
Airlines can produce less CO2 emissions by using:
- Lighter materials: Composite materials like carbon fibre weigh less than metal parts. Advanced manufacturing, such as 3-D printing, can also reduce the weight of small parts.
- Biofuels: Alternative fuels introduce less CO2 into the atmosphere compared with refined crude oil and could reduce jet emissions by 50 to 70 percent.
- Improved aerodynamics: ‘Winglets’ are a good example of improved design. By reducing drag, they can cut a plane’s emissions 6%.
- Enhanced weather-sensing technology and optimal altitudes: Fuel use and CO2 output can be cut without modifying a plane’s design.
Alaska Airlines, KLM and LATAM Airlines are some of the few airlines leading the way, but there’s plenty of room for improvement...
What can you do?
Climate saints like scientist Kevin Anderson show us all up by not flying at all. But not everyone is Kevin Anderson. You could:
- Cut out unnecessary business flights and load up Skype instead; that’s the no brainer.
- For domestic trips investigate taking the train — if it’s available.
- For international trips, consider offsetting your emissions. Or take up sailing...
- Clue up on CORSIA and the importance of climate change. And talk about it!
- Send a letter or email to your country’s biggest airline asking them how they’re planning to reduce their emissions.
- Join an organisation that campaigns for climate action. Rather than telling other folks "Don't fly!", you’re better off asking:
“How can we — collectively — pressure the aviation industry to upgrade its technology, improve its efficiency and ratchet up its CO2 emission reduction goals.”
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