Aviation

Aviation

Commercial aviation accounts for about 2% of global carbon emissions, and about 12% of all CO2 emissions from the transportation sector. But CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft are on a pace to triple by 2050, as both passenger air travel and air freight surge worldwide, and aviation’s share of transportation-sector emissions is ballooning as cars and trucks become more fuel efficient. No serious attempt to face the problem of climate change can fail to address commercial aviation. And carbon emissions are not the only environmental challenge posed by a growing aviation sector. Nitrogen oxides, particulates, noise, and lead pollution also impact often disadvantaged communities living near airports.

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About the program

Commercial aviation accounts for about 2% of global carbon emissions, and about 12% of all CO2 emissions from the transportation sector. But CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft are on a pace to triple by 2050, as both passenger air travel and air freight surge worldwide, and aviation’s share of transportation-sector emissions is ballooning as cars and trucks become more fuel efficient. No serious attempt to face the problem of climate change can fail to address commercial aviation. And carbon emissions are not the only environmental challenge posed by a growing aviation sector. Nitrogen oxides, particulates, noise, and lead pollution also impact often disadvantaged communities living near airports.

Since 2008 ICCT’s aviation program has worked to ensure that environmental policy for the aviation sector is informed by high-quality, transparent analysis of the environmental performance of both aircraft and airlines. We’ve pursued that goal through research on aircraft technology development, airline fuel efficiency, environmental standard design, and the use of alternative fuels in aviation. Thanks to its membership in groups like the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), ICCT is able to contribute research directly to government agencies like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to pragmatically inform the design of policies to reduce to environmental impact of flying. ICCT research also supports efforts by consumers to minimize the carbon footprint of their travel and efforts by progressive industry groups  at the forefront of aviation environmental protection.

Now that GHG targets are in place for the int'l marine and aviation sectors, how do they compare?

The figure explained in the video above compares projected CO2 emissions from international shipping, shown as the black solid and dotted lines, to emissions from international aviation with and without offsetting, shown as the blue surfaces. International aviation emissions are expected grow from about 500 million metric tons in 2015 to between 900 and 1800 million tonnes in 2050. Shipping emissions will fall by at least 50% by 2050, meaning that aviation is expected to overtake shipping as the largest international source of CO2 in about 20 years time.

Under IMO’s agreement, shipping will claim roughly twice its current share of the world’s total carbon budget consistent with the Paris temperature goals. Aviation, in contrast, would increase its share of emissions five to tenfold, from 1.4% today to between 7% and 14% by 2075. The graphic highlights the importance of ICAO adopting its own long-term goal at its 40th Assembly next year.

—from Dan Rutherford's blog “ICAO, why can’t you be a bit more like your sister?

Recent publications

Beyond road vehicles: Survey of zero-emission technology options across the transport sector

Discusses the potential of zero-emission technologies to reduce emissions from non-road transport, including aviation, maritime, off-road, and rail.

2018.07.18 | Working paper
Environmental performance of emerging supersonic transport aircraft

A preliminary assessment of the environmental performance of new commercial supersonic transport aircraft.

2018.07.17 | Working paper
Policy and Environmental Implications of Using HEFA+ for Aviation

Ramping up HEFA+ deployment in aviation would likely create competition for feedstocks between aviation and renewable diesel in the road sector. It could also result in indirect land-use change from the increased use of food crops to create renewable diesel and HEFA+, thereby undermining the climate benefits of AJF deployment. 

2018.03.21 | Working paper
See all publications

Staff blog

ICAO’s CORSIA scheme provides a weak nudge for in-sector carbon reductions

ICAO's Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation will probably not provide a meaningful framework to transition to alternative jet fuels.

[Interview with Dr. Juan Alonso] Maximizing aircraft fuel efficiency

Staff