As momentum builds towards the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in November – also known as COP26 – experts are calling for effective action to decarbonise the aviation sector. According to Harold Goodwin, Responsible Tourism Advisor of leading global event organiser for the travel industry, WTM, “delaying real emission reductions is irresponsible.”
Air travel is responsible for roughly 2.5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, however new research reveals that the aviation’s environmental impact is actually higher. A study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment found that aviation represents around 3.5% of human-induced climate change when contrail cirrus clouds and NOx emissions are accounted for.
Furthermore, emissions are set to increase exponentially over the next several decades. Respected German consultancy Roland Berger projects that if strong measures are not taken, aviation could account for up to 24% of global emissions by 2050.
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Greenhouse gases emitted now will contribute to climate change. If the industry is committed to the Paris Climate Agreement target of limiting global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will need to scale away from fossil fuels and develop viable solutions as quickly as possible. With roughly 4.4 billion passengers travelled on scheduled flights in 2018 – a number set to rise post-COVID thanks to cheap fares, a cultural obsession with travel and a growing middle class in developing nations – swift action to decarbonise will be the key to assuring the industry’s future.
“On an average day across the world [post-COVID], you would expect 75,000 planes to take-off,” said Bertie Stephens, CEO of green technology developer, Clean Planet Energy.
“The aviation industry is making great strides to be greener and cleaner, but still, it is calculated by the European EEA that a domestic flight, for every 1,000 km travelled will release 250kg of new CO2e emissions for every economy passenger onboard. Those numbers will not meet the emission cuts the world must make to stop climate change, so alternatives are needed now.”
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Acknowledging its responsibility to mitigate climate change, the sector has begun investing in technological solutions to cut its emissions. In 2020, the world’s largest airliner manufacturer, Airbus, announced developments of “climate neutral zero-emission” commercial engines and aircrafts, powered by hydrogen and synfuels derived from hydrogen and captured carbon emissions.
“I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen – both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft – has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact,” said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury. The company aims to put the aircrafts into service by 2035.
In February, Clean Planet Energy announced a breakthrough sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) product branded “Clean Planet Air”, a kerosene/jet fuel that can replace standard aviation fossil-fuels but reduces C02 emissions by a minimum of 75% in comparison.
Etihad Airways is one airline transitioning to cleaner jet fuels. Partnering with Boeing, the United Arab Emirates-based airline introduced its 787-10 Dreamliner, which uses the maximum allowable blend of SAF for commercial aviation, a 50/50 blend of cleaner and traditional jet fuel. According to the company, 60 tonnes of emissions were avoided on a delivery flight from Charleston to Abu Dhabi alone.
Focusing on collaboration and cooperation, last month United Airlines launched its “Eco-Skies Alliance” partnership with corporate clients such as Nike and Siemens AG. The programme will allow customers and corporate partners to invest in sustainable aviation fuels, with a goal of purchasing 3.4 million gallons of low-carbon, sustainable aviation fuel derived from waste this year.
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Cover image via Etihad.