Climate Emergency: The Role of Aviation
In my last article, I discussed how the pandemic was accelerating change by pushing the Aviation industry to act quicker in the fight against global warming.
Following this line, a UN global poll has found that people want action. With 1.2 million people questioned worldwide, the largest-ever opinion poll on climate change has found more than two-thirds consider climate change as a global emergency. This attitude towards change is more relevant than ever as countries around the world are in the process of developing new national climate pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. According to Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme “The survey brings the voice of the people to the forefront of the climate debate. It signals ways in which countries can move forward with public support as we work together to tackle this enormous challenge.”
Being responsible for around 2.5% of all global emissions and a total of 3.5% of the warming impact, the role of aviation in the achievement of the NDC is crucial. There are two main concerns of the public regarding flying: firstly, the high CO2 emissions from the aircraft combustion; and secondly, the impact on the plastic pollution due to the large amount of cabin waste.
Regarding the carbon emissions, the industry has set the target of reducing these to 50% of 2005 levels by 2050. To achieve this, research on alternative fuels has already started. Sustainable fuels, particularly those from sources such as algae, jatropha, or waste by-products can reduce the carbon footprint of aviation by up to 80% over their full lifecycle (Aviation figures, 2021). Leading this change, the UK Ministry of Defence has announced that is working on decarbonising its military and defence vehicles using algae, alcohol and household waste on its F-35s, Typhoons and Wildcat helicopters (Engineering & Technology, 2020).
Concerning plastic pollution, many airlines are embracing a circular economy based on a zero-waste concept in which all unwanted materials can be viewed as a potential resource. As an example, Qantas replaced 1,000 single-use plastic items with biodegradable alternatives made from sugarcane and crop starch, or, in the case of certain products like individually packaged milk, removed them altogether. Likewise, Iberia has introduced 500 new trolleys with two-compartment bins to separate packaging and paper-cardboard from other forms of waste (Malik, 2019). Reducing the amount of plastic waste not only reduces the level of plastic emissions but can also contribute to lighter aircraft which means less fuel required.
Undoubtedly, the adoption of alternative fuels and the display of strategies to reduce the amount of cabin waste are notable contributions the industry can make under the NDC. However, many other ways of contributing can certainly be applied. Governments and the industry itself must work together to promote the innovation and the discovery of new and cleaner ways of operation which collectively create a modern, sustainable, and resilient system that satisfy the voice of the people and maintain at its minimum the impact on the planet.