Climate Change Science – Aviation

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), aviation currently accounts for 2% of global emissions from human activity, in absolute terms of 649 million tonnes of CO2 in 2009 from a global total of around 30 billion tonnes. As aviation grows to meet increasing demand, the IPCC has forecasted that by 2050, this could rise to 3%. While the forecast emissions for 2050 can vary significantly, it does highlight the challenge that the aviation industry faces in the next 40 years.

Aircraft contribute to climate change through the emission of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), soot, sulphate aerosols and water vapour. These impacts are summarised on the right:

Uncertainty remains within the scientific community regarding the full impact of other GHGs in the upper atmosphere. In 2007, the IPCC estimated these effects to be two to four times greater than those of aviation's CO2 emissions alone, and by 2050, aviation's total climate change contribution, including CO2 and other effects, could rise to 5% (with a worst-case scenario of 15% of human emissions). However, the IPCC acknowledges that there is still uncertainty and the non-CO2 impacts of aviation are the subject of intensive academic research.

In light of uncertainty about the cumulative or 'multiplier' impacts of other aviation-related GHGs, we continue to focus our efforts on reducing our CO2 emissions while monitoring the latest atmospheric science research findings of the relevant organisations and research institutes. These include the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). To increase our own understanding – and that of the industry as a whole – of these impacts, we will be participating in actual monitoring; this initiative is discussed later in the report.

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