How aviation can reduce its climate impact

Air travel accounts for an increasing share of the climate impact of Swedes. Flights are currently responsible for just over 10 percent of the carbon footprint attributable to Swedish consumers. That is around about the same as private car use in Sweden.

To reduce the climate impact of aviation, several different types of measures are required:
• More fuel efficient aircraft.
• Fuel with a lower climate impact, such as biofuel or hydrogen. However, these fuels will not totally eliminate climate change effects as they still give rise to so-called high-altitude effects and emissions during the production of these fuels.
• Higher occupancy rates in aircraft.
• Better organisation of air traffic (e.g. greener landings, shorter flightpaths and flightpaths that reduce the high-altitude effects)
• Reduced air travel.

Actions within all these areas are needed to reduce the climate impact of aviation. The first four points show the effects on emissions per passenger kilometre. There has been substantial development over the past few decades that has helped to significantly reduce emissions per passenger kilometre. It is important that development work continues, and these areas are likely to offer big potential. However, the number of flights is increasing at the same time, which means total emissions have increased. If we are to be able to reduce total emissions, the number of flights must therefore also be reduced.

This week I took part in a seminar arranged by the Expert Group on Public Economics (ESO), on climate policy that inter alia, addressed the climate impact of aviation. Politicians from the Swedish Social Democrat, Conservative and Center parties took part in the panel discussion and they were all agreed that the price of air travel will increase moving forward, via requirements for a mix of biofuel and/or taxation. It is therefore of interest that the final point, reduced air travel, will also be affected. However, the question is whether the above will have a significant enough impact on emissions, or if additional instruments will be required.

Tip of the week: Go to a lecture on batteries or TEDxWomen Conference a lecture Where will Future Paths lead us? All at KTH on 6 December.