20 september 2019

‘Worse Than Anyone Expected’: Air Travel Emissions Vastly Outpace Predictions

The findings put pressure on airline regulators to take stronger action to fight climate change as they prepare for a summit next week.

Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times, September 19, 2019, Published Sept. 19, 2019, Updated Sept. 20, 2019,

Greenhouse gas emissions from commercial air travel are growing at a faster clip than predicted in previous, already dire, projections, according to new research — putting pressure on airline regulators to take stronger action as they prepare for a summit next week.

The United Nations aviation body forecasts that airplane emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, will reach just over 900 million metric tons in 2018, and then triple by 2050.

But the new research, from the International Council on Clean Transportation, found that emissions from global air travel may be increasing more than 1.5 times as fast as the U.N. estimate. The researchers analyzed nearly 40 million flights around the world last year.

“Airlines, for all intents and purposes, are becoming more fuel efficient. But we’re seeing demand outstrip any of that,” said Brandon Graver, who led the new study. “The climate challenge for aviation is worse than anyone expected.”

Airlines in recent years have invested in lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft, and have explored powering their planes with biofuel.

Over all, air travel accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions — a far smaller share than emissions from passenger cars or power plants. Still, one study found that the rapid growth in plane emissions could mean that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world’s “carbon budget,” or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

The decision by Greta Thunberg, a young climate activist, to sail across the Atlantic rather than travel by air ahead of her speech at the United Nations next week, has refocused attention on aviation’s role in causing climate change and its consequences, including sea-level rise and more intense heat waves, hurricanes, flooding and drought.

Climate protesters have said they plan to gather in Montreal next week, where airline regulators are set to hold their own summit.


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