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Can Aviation Grow and Achieve Net-Zero Emissions?

Will airlines realistically be able to achieve the projected growth targets and meet emissions requirements?

Aviation’s place in a low-carbon world is a problem that most governments try to ignore, either by excluding flights from their emissions counting, or by pinning their hopes on carbon-trading schemes of dubious effectiveness.

Despite fuel-efficiency improvements, aviation’s absolute emissions are set to rise for the foreseeable future, and with no realistic, widely deployable alternative to fossil-fuel-powered jets, this will mean that the industry takes up an increasing share of the world’s allowable emissions “budget” if it is to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has just produced a mammoth report and roadmap on how the country can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050--a target all big emitters will need to hit to have any chance of stopping global warming.

The CCC acknowledges that the Carbon Offsetting and Reducing Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) carbon trading scheme agreed to by the International Civil Aviation Organization and set to run from 2021-36, “offers a route to limit post-2020 aviation emissions.” However, it also warns that CORSIA’s “emissions cap at 2020 levels, committed until 2035 only, is not compatible with achieving net-zero emissions globally.”

It also doesn’t help that CORSIA is voluntary until 2026.

Given the difficulties in containing commercial aviation emissions growth, some prominent environmentalist propose that it will need to stop altogether, but the CCC believes it has found workable solutions.

These include limited use of hybrid electric aircraft from 2040 and the offsetting of aviation emissions through carbon capture and storage--relatively untested technologies that will need massive investment to reach the potential envisaged by the CCC.

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