July 17, 2023


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Ole Hammer Mortensen

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Recently I saw a LinkedIn post that proudly stated: “At any given time, there are 9700 planes and 1.2 million people in the sky”. It also stated that it would make the skies the 156th most populous country in the world right between Estonia and East Timor.

However, what they forgot to add was that while the population in these 2 countries annually produce 12-16 tons per inhabitants, “the country in the air” produced about 843 kilo CO2 emission per flown kilometer per passenger or total 1.047 million ton of CO2 emission per flown kilometer.

Numbers are easy to be massaged, but then I read that July 6, 2023, saw 134396 commercial planes departing and landing and the number including noncommercial planes is 250.831. We have finally understood that the pollution coming from aviation is not around 2% of annual CO2 emission but more likely 5% because most is happening at 10.000 feet.

This means we are on track to increase global CO2 emissions by another 30% compared to 2022 15% compared to 2019. There is a lot of talk of biobased fuel, electric engines, storage of CO2 and X-power, but they are all birds on the roof.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). Most aviation emissions come from CO2, which accounts for about 80% of the total.
ICAO 2020: global aviation emissions were estimated to be 920 million tons of CO2. This means that we probably will reach 2 billion tons this year looking at the flights. This is when you believe in the 2% mentioned by ICAO, but because most of the emissions happen at 10.000 feet, the damages are double and will mean 4 billion tons of CO2 emissions from aviation in 2023.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy-related CO2 emissions grew in 2022 by 0.9%, or 321 million tons, reaching a new high of more than 36.8 billion tons. This means aviation are responsible for up towards 10%. I wrote an article in 2018, where me and my partner quoted scientist claiming that aviation was responsible for 4-5% because of most was happening high in the air. The paper is HERE

ICAO has set a goal of reducing aviation emissions by 50% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. This will require a combination of technological improvements, operational changes, and market-based measures.
Here are some of the ways that aviation can reduce its CO2 emission

  1. Replace physical travel by airplanes with technology communication.
  2. Improving aircraft technology: New aircraft designs can be more fuel-efficient, which will reduce emissions.
  3. Optimizing flight operations: Airlines can fly more direct routes, fly at higher altitudes, and use lighter aircraft.
  4. Using sustainable fuels: Sustainable fuels, such as biofuels and hydrogen, can be used to power aircraft.
  5. Offsetting emissions: Airlines can offset their emissions by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.

In the previous article written in 2017 I strongly recommend 5 adding levy to the airfare and use the income to invest in projects offsetting the emission. 2,3,4 will take years or decades to implement.
Reducing aviation emissions is a complex challenge, but it is essential to addressing climate change. By acting now, we can ensure that aviation continues to play a vital role in the global economy while also protecting the environment.

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