Global airlines’ CO2 emissions rising up to 70% faster than predicted by ICAO

Worldwide CO2 emissions from commercial flights are rising up to 70% faster than predicted by the UN, according to analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).  They found that CO2 emitted by airlines increased by 32% from 2013 to 2018, and was about 918 million tonnes (for passengers + freight) in 2018. This rate of growth is higher even than the projections by ICAO. ICCT says: “The implied annual compound growth rate of emissions, 5.7%, is 70% higher than those used to develop ICAO’s projections that CO2 emissions from international aviation will triple under business as usual by 2050.”  The UK has particularly high aviation CO2 emissions, per capita – being responsible for 4% of global aviation CO2 emissions, behind only the US (24%) and China (13%), and the whole EU (18%). The only plan ICAO has to cut aviation carbon is an “aspirational goal” to make all growth in international flights after 2020 “carbon neutral” by buying carbon offsets from other sectors (effectively cancelling out carbon cuts made elsewhere). Small efficiency gains have been made, of 1 – 2% per year, but are dwarfed by industry growth rates of over 5% per year. Our Grant Shapps is waffling about electric planes …. which will NOT solve the problem.



Airlines’ CO2 emissions rising up to 70% faster than predicted

Carbon dioxide emitted by commercial flights rose by 32% from 2013 to 2018, study shows

Worldwide CO2 emissions from commercial flights are rising up to 70% faster than predicted by the UN, according to an analysis.

Carbon dioxide emitted by airlines increased by 32% from 2013 to 2018, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation.

The US-based ICCT, which exposed the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal, estimated global air travel for passengers and freight emitted 918m tonnes of CO2 last year.

Researchers said the rate of growth far exceeded that used to develop projections for CO2 emissions by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization.

The ICCT report says: “The implied annual compound growth rate of emissions, 5.7%, is 70% higher than those used to develop ICAO’s projections that CO2 emissions from international aviation will triple under business as usual by 2050.”

The total increase over the past five years was equivalent to building about 50 coal-fired power plants, the ICCT calculated. The study shows the UK is responsible for 4% of global aviation CO2 emissions, behind only the US (24%) and China (13%).

Domestic flights in the US and China account for a quarter of all aviation emissions. The US, China and EU account for 55% of all emissions.

Airlines in the 36-member countries of the ICAO have signed up to a carbon reduction scheme known as Corsia and will start recording their emissions this year.

The scheme is framed to allow aviation to continue to grow but reduce its net footprint by purchasing carbon emission offsets – or funding a carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. Although aviation accounts for just over 2% of all global emissions, that proportion is expected to expand significantly as other sectors such as energy make more rapid progress to decarbonise.

The growth in total emissions comes in spite of more fuel-efficient planes, as passenger numbers have grown. Emissions per passenger kilometre have been reduced by more than 50% since 1990. According to the airline trade body Iata, carriers have improved fuel efficiency by more than 2% per year over the past decade.

An Iata spokesman said: “It is true that because of demand from people in developing economies to enjoy the same benefits of flying as those in rich countries, aviation emissions growth is currently faster than our efficiency gains.

“That is why from 2020 all growth in international aviation CO2 will be offset, reducing carbon by millions of tonnes a year. And by 2050 we aim to cut total emissions to half the 2005 level, using a combination of sustainable fuels and radical new technologies.”

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, called on the UK aviation industry to take the lead in introducing electric flight. In a speech at Cranfield University in Bedford on Thursday, he said: “We need to get to grips with commercial aviation greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of our children and our fragile environment.”

He said aviation “supercharges our economy, drives prosperity, jobs and tourism and helps promote Britain’s interests globally … But with aviation set to grow significantly over the next three decades, largely driven by rising demand from emerging markets, particularly Asia, the Middle East and India, I want to pave the way for the transition towards commercial use of cleaner electric planes.”


  • Under a business-as-usual trajectory, the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) expects aviation emissions to roughly triple by 2050,
  • At which time aircraft might account for 25% of the global carbon budget.
Report from The International Council on Clean Transportation, the charity that reported VW to the US EPA.
Part of the Summary states: 

Nearly 39 million flights from 2018 were analyzed, and 38 million of these were flown by passenger aircraft. Total CO2 emissions from all commercial operations, including passenger movement, belly freight, and dedicated freight, totaled 918 million metric tons (MMT) in 2018. That is 2.4% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and a 32% increase over the past five years. Further, this emissions growth rate is 70% higher than assumed under current ICAO projections.

The data shows that passenger transport accounted for 747 MMT, or 81%, of total emissions from commercial aviation in 2018. Globally, two-thirds of all flights were domestic, and these accounted for approximately one-third of global RPKs and 40% of global passenger transport-related CO2 emissions. On a national level, flights departing airports in the United States and its territories emitted almost one quarter (24%) of global passenger transport-related CO2, and two-thirds of those emissions came from domestic flights. The top five countries for passenger aviation-related carbon emissions were rounded out by China, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany. CO2 emissions from aviation were distributed unequally across nations; less developed countries that contain half of the world’s population accounted for only 10% of all emissions.

This paper also apportions 2018 emissions by aircraft class and stage length. Passenger movement in narrowbody aircraft was linked to 43% of aviation CO2, and passenger emissions were roughly equally divided between short-, medium-, and longhaul operations. The carbon intensity of flights averaged between 75 and 95 grams (g) of CO2 per RPK, rising to almost 160 g CO2/RPK for regional flights less than 500 kilometers.


Part of the Conclusion states: 

This data set is provided at a time when the climate impact of air transport is coming under increasing scrutiny. Airlines and governments are beginning to take heed, but existing policies such the ICAO’s CO2 standard for new aircraft and its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation are not expected to reduce aircraft emissions significantly (Graver & Rutherford, 2018c; Pavlenko, 2018). Additionally, the ICAO has yet to codify a 2050 climate goal in the way the International Maritime Organization (IMO), its sister agency governing international shipping, already has for oceangoing vessels (Rutherford, 2018). Further action, supported by the best available science on aviation emissions’ impacts and data about where those emissions are originating from, is needed.