Aviation emissions have an impact on the global climate, and this is consequently an active area of research worldwide. By adapting replicable and transparent systematic review methods from the field of evidence-based medicine, we aim to synthesise available data on the effects of aviation emissions on climate. From these data, we aim to calculate lower and upper bounds for estimates of the effect of aviation on climate in an objective manner.
For the systematic review an appropriate protocol was developed and applied by two independent reviewers, to identify research that met the inclusion criteria. These included all aviation types, original research studies, climate models with aviation as a specific component, with outcomes for emissions, radiative forcing, global warming potential and/or surface temperature changes. These studies were prioritised and data extracted using a standard process. The 35 studies reviewed here reported radiative forcing, global warming potential and/or temperature changes as outcomes, allowing direct comparisons to be made.
Tabulated results and a narrative commentary were provided for overall effects on climate, and the individual effects of carbon dioxide, water, contrails, cirrus clouds, ozone, nitrogen oxides, methane, soot and sulphur oxides. Lower and upper bounds for these effects, and their relative contributions compared to overall radiative forcing and surface temperature changes, have been described.
This review shows that the most recent estimates for the contribution of aviation to global climate are highly dependent on the level of scientific understanding and modelling, and predicted scenarios for social and economic growth. Estimates for the future contribution of aviation to global radiative forcing in 2015 range from 5·31% to 8·04%. For 2050 the estimates have a wider spread, from 2·12% to 17·33%, the latter being for the most extreme technology and growth scenario. These global estimates should be considered within the context of uncertainties in accounting for the direct and indirect effects of different contributions. Variations between lower and upper bounds for estimates of radiative forcing are relatively low for carbon dioxide, around 131% to 800% for cirrus clouds effects, and 1,044% for soot. Advances in climate research, particularly in the area of contrail and cloud effects, has led to some revision of the 1999 IPCC estimates(1), and demonstrates that the research community is actively working to further understand the underlying science.
The approaches assumptions, limitations and future work were discussed in detail. We have demonstrated how the systematic review methodology can be applied to climate science, in a replicable and transparent manner.