Aviation warned it needs to better fuel road to net zero

A team of leading experts has said that the aviation sector needs to redesign the way in which aircraft are fuelled after it was found aviation is responsible for more global warming than implied by its carbon footprint alone.

According to new research aviation could consume up one-sixth of the remaining temperature budget required to limit warming to 1.5˚C by 2050. The study warned that emissions produced by the aviation industry must be reduced each year if the sector’s emissions are not to increase warming further.

The study was part-funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and NERC’s National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) with research conducted by scientists from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space.

“Aviation is projected to cause a total of about 0.1 °C of warming by 2050, half of it to date and the other half over the next three decades, should aviation’s pre-COVID growth resume,” said the study. “The industry would then contribute a 6%–17% share to the remaining 0.3 °C–0.8 °C to not exceed 1.5 °C–2 °C of global warming.

“Under this scenario, the reduction due to COVID-19 to date is small and is projected to only delay aviation’s warming contribution by about five years. But the leveraging impact of growth also represents an opportunity: aviation’s contribution to further warming would be immediately halted by either a sustained annual 2.5% decrease in air traffic under the existing fuel mix, or a transition to a 90% carbon-neutral fuel mix by 2050.”

The researchers behind the study developed a simple technique for quantifying the temperature contribution of historical aviation emissions. This included both CO2 and non-CO2 impacts. The study also projects future warming due to aviation based on a range of possible solutions to the climate crisis. The researchers of the study are based at:

“The aviation industry has only recently begun to tackle the warming effect of flying, and this study is timely for quantifying that impact,” it added. “The solutions discussed in this study, such as moving to alternative fuels, present a clear pathway to minimising warming but these will take time to implement. In the short-term, there are actions that the industry can take right now.”

Dr Simon Proud, of the NCEO and STFC RAL Space, said: “A ban on fuel tankering, where aircraft carry more fuel than they need, and hence burn extra fuel, to save the cost of refuelling at the destination, would reduce CO2 emissions in Europe alone by almost one million tonnes.”

The report added there were other area where the industry could improve including more efficient air traffic control and minimising holding patterns at airports.

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