Steady increase in flights will outweigh carbon cuts | RenewEconomy

Steady increase in flights will outweigh carbon cuts

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Whatever the industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions, they will be outweighed by the growth in air traffic

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Climate News Network

The aviation industry insists that it is making only a tiny contribution to global warming, with just 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions coming from its aircraft.

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Even if the aviation industry tries to reduce its carbon emissions, they will be outweighed by the growth in air traffic, even if the most contentious mitigation measures come into force, according to researchers in the UK. Credit: croustibat51/flickr

The problem is the speed at which aviation itself is growing. One aircraft builder believes the number of planes in service in 2011 will have doubled by 2031.

Whatever the industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions, they will be outweighed by the growth in air traffic, even if the most contentious mitigation measures come into force, according to researchers in the UK.

Cut Substantially

More aircraft, more flights and more passengers mean more fuel will be burnt and more CO2 emitted − so much more that air traffic growth is likely to prevail over emissions cuts, unless demand for flights is cut substantially.

The researchers, from the University of Southampton, have published their report in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“There is little doubt that increasing demand for air travel will continue for the foreseeable future,” says co-author and travel expert Professor John Preston. “As a result, civil aviation is going to become an increasingly significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

The authors have calculated that the ticket price increase needed to drive down demand would value CO2 emissions at up to 100 times the amount of current valuations.

“This would translate to a yearly 1.4 percent increase on ticket prices, breaking the trend of increasing lower airfares,” says co-author Matt Grote. “The price of domestic tickets has dropped by 1.3 percent a year between 1979 and 2012, and international fares have fallen by 0.5 percent per annum between 1990 and 2012.”

However, because any move to suppress demand is likely to be resisted by the airline industry and by governments, the researchers say that a global regulator “with teeth” is urgently needed to enforce CO2 emission cuts.

“Some mitigation measures can be left to the aviation sector to resolve,” says Professor Ian Williams, the head of the Center for Environmental Science at the university, “For example, the industry will continue to seek improvements to fuel efficiency as this will reduce costs.

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The proliferation of low-cost airlines has driven up demand in leisure travel and thus carbon emissions. Credit: Kurush Pawar via Wikimedia Commons

“However, other essential measures, such as securing international agreements, setting action plans, regulations and carbon standards, will require political leadership at a global level.”

The literature review conducted by the researchers suggests that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) “lacks the legal authority to force compliance, and therefore is heavily reliant on voluntary co-operation and piecemeal agreements”.

Fuel Efficiency

Current targets, set at the most recent ICAO Assembly session in October 2013, include a global average fuel-efficiency improvement of 2 percent a year (up to 2050), and keeping global net CO2 emissions for international aviation at the same level from 2020.

Global market-based measures have yet to be agreed, while the U.S. plane maker Boeing predicts that the number of aircraft in service in 2011 will have doubled by 2031.

And the aircraft are only one part of aviation’s contribution to warming the planet. Airports themselves are huge emitters of greenhouse gases.

Making flying more expensive will have immense economic and social consequences − if it can be achieved.

In May 2013, the website Air Traffic Management reported that the number of seats offered by low-cost carriers in Europe has increased by an average of 14 percent per year over the last decade, according to OAG, a leading provider of aviation information and analytical services

This compares with an average annual rise of only 1 percent in capacity among “legacy carriers” – a term derived from the major airlines that existed before the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act in the U.S.

Thanks largely to the low-cost airlines, flying for leisure is now seen as an unquestioned right, and the national economies of many travellers’ destinations depend, at least in part, on traffic growing, not slackening.

Source: Climate News Central. Reproduced with permission.

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3 Comments
  1. Ronald Brakels 6 years ago

    “…the ticket price increase needed to drive down demand would value
    CO2 emissions at up to 100 times the amount of current valuations.” I wonder what the current valuation they are using is? But whatever it is, agricultural capture and sequestion of CO2 from 2%, or even 4%, of current oil production is technically doable. And this puts an upper limit on ticket prices, as does the ability to synthesise fuels, including the very basic but somewhat impractical hydrogen. (International flights from Australia would need huge under wing fuel pods of liquid hydrogen, but it could be done. It’s just probably not worth it.) Flight produces about 100 grams of CO2 per passanger kilometer so at a cost of $100 a tonne for agricultural capture and sequestion of CO2 a carbon neutral 3,300 km flight from Sydney to Perth would increase the cost of a ticket by $33. Hardly a civilisation ending amount and certainly not an air travel ending amount. Now if we could stop burning so much oil in stupid places such as ground transport, that would be helpful.

    Note there are also alternatives to flight such as high speed rail, but I’m assuming people are aware they are an option.

  2. atwork 6 years ago

    Alex – 2% and growing and due in large part to discretionary air travel and a desire to see this growth continue. It is a weak point in any strategy for global emissions reductions. Australia has its toes in the water here – with ideas on producing jet fuel from wood – and while the finances are reasonable the mechanism for establishing such an innovative industry means a slow start. Without a radical rework of what we power planes – wonderful air travel may become a victim of future desperate measures to reduce emissions.

  3. JohnRD 6 years ago

    A range of renewable, low impact fuels could be used to power aircraft if required. These are fuels that use renewable energy, water as well as air or CO2 to produce transportable fuels such as renewable Jet A fuel, gasoline and liquid ammonia. (See, for example, http://pragmatusj.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/renewable-low-impact-fuels-game-changer.html AND http://www.climateplus.info/2014/04/13/us-navy-producing-fuel-from-seawater/) The use of these fuels may add to ticket prices but they do make it possible to reduce total air travel emissions without inhibiting the growth of air travel.

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