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Aviation and climate change: confronting the challenge

  • A. Bows (a1)

Each year greenhouse gas emissions remain high the climate mitigation and adaptation challenges grow. The economic downturn was already in train in 2008, yet concentrations of CO2 increased unabated. Without concerted effort across all sectors there will be little chance of avoiding ‘dangerous climate change’ and the aviation sector has a clear role to play. Current and forthcoming technologies, operational practices and behavioural change offer widespread opportunities for other sectors to mitigate their CO2 emissions in absolute terms, but as they do so, aviation will become an increasingly important player. By comparing a range of global cross-sector emission scenarios with existing aviation projections, this paper illustrates the importance of understanding the future context with regard to other sectors when assessing the aviation industry’s potential impact. Given growth projections for aviation and the relatively slow pace of technological change, aviation’s proportion of 2050 global CO2 emissions is low only in those global cross-sector emission scenarios where there is a high probability of ‘dangerous climate change’. For a ‘reasonable’ (>50%) chance of avoiding ‘dangerous climate change’, the most technologically radical scenarios for aviation make up 15% of global CO2 in 2050 and conventional scenarios exceed the carbon budget entirely. Only by recognising that aviation’s currently projected emissions are incompatible with avoiding ‘dangerous climate change’ can the industry fully grasp the challenge of accelerating innovation and managing demand to deliver a more sustainable route to 2050 and beyond.

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The Aeronautical Journal
  • ISSN: 0001-9240
  • EISSN: 2059-6464
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