What is the real climate impact of flying and what can we do about it? (BBC info)
in terms of
BBC “Bloom” site,
What’s the problem?
than any other source of
continues to increase at current rates this will rise to 600 million by 2030.
The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research estimates that before 2050, UK
aviation emissions could exceed the emissions budget of the whole UK economy,
wiping out hard-earned reductions in other areas.
What can we do?
passenger numbers in time to stop dangerous levels of climate change. But there
is good news: we don’t have to give up flying altogether. In fact, the majority
of flights are taken by a small percentage of people who fly frequently. In 2007,
for example, a third of all flights were taken by just 4% of the population who
took five or more flights a year. So the most effective change would appear to
be for frequent flyers to dramatically cut their air miles, while those of us
who fly more than twice a year cut down a little.
go to Spain and 50% to the rest of Europe, taking the train is an increasingly
Can technology help?
reduce aviation’s impact on climate change, but various proposals exist to improve
the efficiency of flying:
Better air traffic management systems – this would include filling planes to capacity and therefore scheduling fewer
More efficient planes such as the Airbus A380 could reduce emissions compared to older aircraft, but it would take decades
to replace existing fleets and the savings are being outweighed by air traffic
growth. Planes are becoming more efficient by about 1% a year, while the industry
grows by 7% a year
Alternative fuels – aircraft have flown on biofuel blends in recent test flights, but they are
unlikely to be used on regular flights in the foreseeable future while technical
issues remain to be addressed. There are also significant question marks over
the sustainability of
biofuels . The first manned hydrogen fuel cell plane recently carried two people in a
test flight conducted near Madrid, but scaling this technology up for commercial
passenger jets is expected to take at least 20 years, and would create contrails,
which may further warm the climate
Airships – you may laugh, but an airship running on non-flammable helium is one of the
least polluting forms of passenger travel. An Atlantic crossing to New York would
take around 45 hours. Before you rush to buy your ticket, this route is not yet
Flying more slowly – in a bid to reduce fuel, Belgium’s Brussels Airlines have cut weight on aircraft
and started to fly more slowly on certain routes. This adds a minute or two to
journey times and saves 1 million Euros on their annual fuel bill. Planes on other
routes currently fly at pre-set speeds, putting a limit on such savings
What are the politicians doing?
best, uneven. Unlike with trains, buses and cars, international flight emissions
are not included in the
The reason for this omission, say governments, is that flights cross many international
borders, making it hard to identify who’s responsible for aircraft emissions.
emissions will be capped at 2004/6 levels. Even then, scientists at the Tyndall
Centre suggest the ETS will do little to reduce actual plane travel emissions
because airlines will be able to increase passenger numbers through buying in
extra permits. And they predict that the small price rise proposed for plane travel
under the ETS will deter very few people from flying.
runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow. And Britain looks set to expand its airports
around the country on a scale greater than that envisaged by any other European
nation. Air operators claim this will benefit passengers by cutting congestion.
Campaigners respond that making flying more appealing will simply increase demand,
in turn increasing the need for further new airports and runways – a pattern demonstrated
by recent road-building policies which, they argue, have actually increased traffic
subsidy of around £10 billion a year as no tax is levied on aviation fuel in the
UK, and plane tickets are VAT-free.
supporting the UK’s world status as a hub for finance, industry and tourism.
What’s the climate impact of aircraft emissions?
where they cause the most damage. The effects of the resulting mix of chemical
reactions are complex and hard to calculate, occurring over timescales between
three days and 100 years. Even so, scientists believe that between 1992 and 2050,
the overall impact of these emissions will prove somewhere between 1.2 and four
times that of CO2 at ground level. [This is now established, by the IPCC as x 3. See link]. (Contrails add to this mix of effects. Made up of soot and water vapour,
scientists know that in some weather conditions contrails cause cirrus clouds
to form, which warm the climate further, though these effects are as yet poorly
extent of the damage would be 570kg – the same amount of CO2 saved by
Multiplied by 3 it is about 1440 kg of CO2].
to UK emissions. The government’s figures on the climate change impact of flying
are calculated based on domestic and international departures from the UK and
suggest it contributes only about 7% of the country’s CO2 emissions. But because of the extra impacts, research suggests that it’s likely
to create something closer to 11% [ more like 18% of the UK’s climate changing impact,
using the new multiplier of 3]. of our national total.
worth of driving a 1.4 litre car
predicted that that number will double over the next 15 years
only 10% have reduced the number of flights they take
the earth 640 times
Canary Islands, creating an extra three tonnes of CO2 per flight
flight emissions, which doubled
worth of driving a 1.4 litre car