Academics call for more sustainable fuels to reduce aviation impact on climate

Aviation’s contribution to cutting climate change is likely to be small, according to a new study.

The authors said: “Although the emissions targets for aviation are in line with the overall goals of the Paris Agreement [on climate change], there is a high likelihood that the climate impact of aviation will not meet these goals.”

Aviation contributes to climate change by creating carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as non-CO2 effects such as forming nitrogen oxides, ozone and condensation trail cirrus clouds – which all contribute to global warming.

Publishing their findings on Tuesday (June 22) in Nature Communications, an international research team including experts from the University of Birmingham believes that non-CO2 effects will continue to make a major contribution to aviation’s climate impact over the coming years.

Researchers believe that – as long as the industry recovers – the restrictions placed on global air travel amid the Covid crisis will only have a temporary effect on the overall climate impact of aviation.

Study co-author Dr Simon Blakey, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Birmingham, said: “Technological improvements to engines and airframes and operations won’t be enough to sufficiently reduce the impact of aviation on climate change.

“We must explore all mitigation options in parallel – including the increased use of sustainable fuels and market-based measures in order to limit aviation’s impact on the environment.

“Accounting for sustainable fuels must include the impact of non-CO2 emissions in use as well as the CO2 emissions in fuel production. If we base all our calculations on CO2 alone, we miss the large improvements in non-CO2 emissions that these fuels can offer.”

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