02 Dec Aviation and Climate Change; Impact and Initiatives


This week the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) is taking place in Paris. The international aviation and shipping emissions are not included in the carbon reduction goals of signatories to the Kyoto agreement, but this does not mean the aviation and shipping are not addressing the issue. Due to the complexity and number of countries involved in international aviation, many of the governments across the globe have agreed to pursue Climate Change reductions for aviation through the United Nations (UN) aviation authority, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Nevertheless many proponents of action on Climate Change wish to see international aviation and shipping included this time. Aviation and shipping will be on the agenda of COP21.

Impact of Aviation on Climate Change

In 2007, ICAO estimated aviation emissions accounted for approximately 2% of the global greenhouse emissions caused by human activities, and 3.5% of the total Radiative Forcing. RF is the global annual mean radiative imbalance of the earth atmosphere caused by humans and predicts changes to the global mean surface temperature. If commercial aviation were counted as a country, it would have ranked 7th after Germany in terms of CO2 emissions. Due to the growth in aviation and the decrease of fossil fuel used for other purposes by 2050, aviation emissions are forecast to rise to 3-5% of the total global emissions. Next to the effect of emissions on Climate Change, high altitude flying has an indirect impact on natural climate processes. For example: black carbon aerosol (soot) and water vapour emitted from jet engines can act as nuclei for water held in the atmosphere. This can induce changes in natural clouds or create contrails that may persist. These changes are less well understood and are extremely difficult to model with accuracy.

 Global Action on Climate Change by the Aviation Sector

The aviation industry, through the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) has committed to a number of targets. These include the following:

  • Improve the fuel efficiency of the world fleet by an average 1.5% per annum from 2009 to 2020.
  • Stabilise net aviation CO2 emissions at 2020 levels through carbon-neutral growth.
  • Halve aviation’s net CO2 emissions by 2050, compared with a 2005 baseline.

The IATA target relies heavily on the involvement of all aviation stakeholders and will be almost impossible to meet if all parties such as airports, aircraft manufactures, airlines and air traffic control (ATC) are not actively engaged in seeking solutions to reduce aviation Climate Change impacts. The aviation industry as a whole has made its long term commitment to tackling Climate change well known ahead of the COP21 event by writing an open letter to governments, reaffirming their commitment to achieving these targets and the goal of stabilizing net aviation CO2 emissions at 2020 levels through carbon-neutral growth.

A Basket of Measures to Reduce Emissions

The aviation sector has recognized for a number of years that it must take action on mitigating the impacts of Climate Change. The aviation industry has in fact been seeking improvements for a number of years and has typically focused their efforts in the following areas:

  • Technical improvements including developing lighter more fuel efficient aircraft, engines and developing alternative fuels that are less CO2 intensive.
  • Improving infrastructure by smoothing airport operations and reducing ATC inefficiencies.
  • Operational measures which include more efficient flight procedures, weight reductions from airline operations as well as better operations at airports.
  • Using market based measures (MBM) such as an Emissions Trading Schemes (ETS) or positive incentives to manage and reduce emissions that are not reduced from the Operational and Technical elements.

In order to ensure carbon neutral growth from 2020, ICAO suggests that sustainable alternative fuels and market-based measures will need to be embraced by the global aviation industry, as operational improvements and aircraft technology improvements alone will not suffice. Furthermore MBM measures are deemed essential to reach Carbon-neutral growth in 2020 and will become obsolete later on as biofuel and new radical technologies take over.

 Schematic CO2 emissions reduction roadmap (IATA)Schematic CO2 emissions reduction roadmap (IATA)

ICAO has taken the responsibility to develop a MBM ahead of the 2016 ICAO 39th General Assembly and ultimately deliver a global MBM by 2020.

With the increasing demand for responsible investment, CO2 is not only about environmental issues; CO2 management is closely related to the business case and has become a part of organisational sustainability strategy. France is the first country in the world to introduce a carbon reporting obligation on financial institutions. The aim is to ensure that the companies undertake cost effective, value enhancing, carbon and energy efficiency measures to help improve strategic risk management for investors and companies. Preparing a carbon footprint for airports is still largely a voluntary activity, however, this could be made mandatory in the future and all airports should be prepared for that eventuality.

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner.

Airport carbon accreditation verifierTo70 has assisted several airports in preparing their carbon footprint, implementing carbon reduction measures; and engaging stakeholders to increase awareness. In addition to that To70 has experienced consultants in the area of Airport Carbon Accreditation, and also has two certified verifiers who work with clients from across the globe.

Tim Gill
Tim Gill
Tim is a senior aviation consultant at To70 Australia. He gained substantial experience in environmental impact assessments, airport and airspace modelling and simulation, aircraft noise and policy drafting whilst working for international airlines and air traffic service providers. Tim has managed and executed projects for the European Union, airports, airlines, air navigation service providers and international events such as the London Olympics. Tim has held a number of advisory positions including at IATA, ICAO and with the UK government. Tim is an accredited ACI-ACA verifier and works with clients from the Asia/Pacific region on carbon related projects. When not working, Tim enjoys flying and travelling.
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