‘Emissions from aviation have almost tripled’ in 50 years, says coordinator of report on aviation’s climate impact

“Aviation emissions have increased almost threefold” in 50 years, explained this Friday August 12 on franceinfo Florian Simatos, teacher-researcher at Isae-Supaéro, the great school of aeronautics and space. He is the coordinator of a report on the impact of aviation on the climate, published in May 2022. On Twitter, many accounts follow different personalities in their air travel and point the finger at the impact of aviation in greenhouse gas emissions.

franceinfo: Does private aviation emit a lot of greenhouse gases?

Florian Simatos: Lhe most recent data suggests that private aviation is responsible for 4% of general aviation carbon dioxide emissions. This may seem quite low but if we relate it to the number of users it is quite significant.

What is the impact of aviation in general on the climate?

The impact of aviation on the climate is 2% to 6% depending on the scope considered. If we focus only on greenhouse gas emissions, we are between 2% and 3% of CO2 at the global level. Aviation accentuates global warming through non-CO2 effects, that is to say which are not linked to greenhouse gases, these are in particular contrails, those big white clouds that we see in the aircraft wake. Under certain conditions, these trails can persist, spread and become high altitude clouds, called cirrus clouds, which have cooling and warming effects on the climate, but the warming effect prevails. This effect is very powerful, as much as those of CO2, and it doubles the warming climatic effect of aviation. So instead of being 2%, 3% CO2 emissions of human origin, aviation is more responsible for 5% to 6% of global warming.

Is it possible to decarbonize aviation?

We can make an airplane emit less CO2, it’s possible. There are several levers to do this, technological levers to make planes more efficient, to decarbonize the fuel. On the other hand, if we are talking about decarbonizing the entire aviation sector, we must consider the traffic lever. For 50 years, the efficiency of aircraft has been greatly increased. Today, it takes five times less energy to make a passenger travel 1 km than 50 years ago. But at the same time the traffic has been multiplied by 13. So ultimately the emissions of global aviation have been multiplied by almost three.

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