It is no secret that traveling by plane has become increasingly commonplace, thanks to the rise of budget airlines and the increasing rate of international business travel. Unfortunately, however, the convenience and rapidity of air travel comes at a cost – the environment. According to scientific data, aircrafts account for a significant portion of global air pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, leading to a growing concern about their effects on climate change and global warming.
A recent report released in 2020 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, revealed that air travel accounts for approximately 2.5 – 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Most international flights use jet fuels that are between 31and 92% more concentrated in carbon than standard diesel fuel. This means that the exhaust fumes and particles produced by aircraft have a significantly greater potential to cause harm to the environment than other forms of transport. Moreover, the carbon dioxide released by aircrafts remains in the atmosphere for a longer time.
In addition to the impacts of CO2 emissions, aircrafts also contribute to climate change through emissions of other gases such as oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide and soot particles, which further contribute to the warming of the planet. Furthermore, aircrafts leave contrails – the white tracks of cloud in the sky left behind by their machine – which trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, by 2050 the emissions of global aviation may reach up to 8.4 billion metric tons of CO2 annually — an alarming figure. To mitigate this, the aviation industry has taken measures to reduce its carbon footprint. For example, some airline companies have begun using sustainable fuels and greener technologies, while airports are becoming more efficient and modern, reducing the time aircrafts have to spend on the ground and hence reducing the amount of carbon they emit.
Additionally, some organizations and initiatives have been taking a hard stance against air travel, such as the Flight Free campaign, advocating for the public to forego air travel. While it may not be possible for everyone to stop flying overnight, everyone can make small changes in their behavior to shrink their carbon footprint – such as reducing their aircraft trips and choosing more sustainable means of transportation – which, in the long run, could result in a significant reduction in the emissions of global aviation.
It is clear that aircraft emissions are a major contribution to global warming and climate change, necessitating further action on behalf of the aviation industry. While some emissions reduction strategies are already in place, more needs to be done to ensure that air travel does not come at the cost of the environment. The public has a big role to play in this decision as well, as how much we fly makes a difference. All we can do is make conscious choices and encourage others to do the same.