As the world’s population increases, we’re all looking for ways to maximize our resources. This is especially true when it comes to air travel, which accounts for about a third of all carbon emissions in the United States.
Airlines have been exploring ways to reduce their carbon footprint and improve efficiency through technology like biofuel-powered flights and electric planes. But what can you do as an individual traveler? Here are some tips from flight experts on how to make your next trip as environmentally friendly as possible:
The demand for air travel is growing
You may have heard that the demand for air travel is growing. According to a report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global air travel is expected to grow by 5% per year until 2030, with passenger numbers increasing from 3 billion in 2018 to 4.5 billion in 2030. That’s an additional 2.6 billion passengers per year during this period!
The number of aircraft in use will also increase by 50%, from 41,000 today to 57,000 aircraft by 2030. This staggering statistic highlights how much more efficient we need to become if we want our planet’s future generations to not only be able to enjoy their vacations but also live long enough on them themselves.
Air travel has become an integral part of the economy
Air travel has become an integral part of the economy. Air travel is a major source of employment, income, tourism revenue, and foreign direct investment (FDI). According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), over 3 million people in the United States depend on the aviation industry for their livelihoods.
The economic value generated by air transportation reached $1 trillion in 2016, accounting for nearly 5% of the global GDP.
Airports play a crucial role in supporting jobs across all sectors through ground service providers such as airlines and hotels, commercial real estate developers who build office buildings near airports, business travelers who rely on air transportation services while conducting business away from home, and military bases that rely on civilian jet fuel suppliers such as Shell Oil Company or BP PLC.
Air travel is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions
In 2014, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that aviation accounted for 1.2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. This figure will likely increase as we continue to rely on fossil fuels to power our planes.
The growth in air travel is outpacing improvements in fuel efficiency: according to IATA, aircraft energy consumption per seat kilometer has decreased by only 0.5% since 1990 despite significant technological developments over the same period.
This rate of improvement is unlikely to continue, given that there are few obvious opportunities for further technological advancements within aviation itself or within other sectors with which aviation interacts (e.g., manufacturing).
Air travel accounts for 1.2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Air travel is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, responsible for approximately 2% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 (the latest year with complete data).
Air travel growth is outpacing the improvements in fuel efficiency
The growth in air travel is outpacing the improvements in fuel efficiency. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) predicts that by 2050, there will be more than 10 billion passengers annually traveling by air. That is a fourfold increase from today’s levels.
However, the current rate of fuel efficiency improvement needs to catch up with this expected growth. According to ICAO data, it would take nearly 100 years for carbon dioxide emissions from aviation to be cut by half if no new technologies are introduced to reduce them further.
As a result, environmental impacts will increase unless we act now to address them:
- Air pollution from aircraft engine exhaust can cause respiratory problems and heart disease;
- Noise pollution creates stress on wildlife habitats;
- Carbon emissions contribute significantly toward climate change;
The environmental impacts of air travel are significant
Air travel is a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions, and the environmental impacts of air travel will only increase unless we act now to address them.
In 2016 alone, more than 750 million people flew on commercial airlines around the world. According to data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), this represents an increase of 2% over 2015. This number doesn’t include private jets or military flights.
The same report projects that by 2035, there will be 1 billion passengers annually traveling in commercial aircraft alone. At this rate, aviation is expected to become one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2050.
A major USA transport company and an industry leader in reducing its own carbon footprint through technological advancements like biofuels and electric planes, Airbus, has made it clear: “We cannot expect governments around the world not just talk about climate change but actually do something about it.”
A major opportunity awaits
A major opportunity exists to shift demand from domestic to international travel to reduce global CO2 emissions from aviation by 20% by 2050, or approximately 236 million tCO2e per year over this period. Reducing demand for air travel, in general, will also reduce CO2 emissions from aviation.
Maximizing efficiency in our transportation system will be a win-win for the environment and the economy
The aviation industry is responsible for about 2% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, with aviation contributing about 1% to total man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
In order to reduce the environmental impacts of air travel, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has set a goal to reduce global CO2 emissions from international civil aviation by 20% by 2050 compared with 2016 levels through improved efficiency and reduced demand growth in passenger-kilometers flown.
As an example, this means that if we were able to achieve these reductions using existing technology and infrastructure alone, it would reduce 236 million tonnes of CO2e per year over this period. This is the equivalent of taking nearly 30 million cars off the road each year through 2050!
We hope this article has inspired you to think about how you can make air travel more efficient. Traveling by plane is an important part of our economy. Still, if we don’t act now to reduce carbon emissions from aviation, the environmental impacts will be significant and only increase over time.
By shifting demand from domestic flights to international travel, we can reduce global CO2 emissions from aviation by 20% by 2050. This is the amount equivalent to 236 million tons per year over this period.