What can be done about this increasingly worrying contribution to global warming?
The most important options to reduce aircraft CO2 emissions are:
Changes in aircraft and engine technology; use of alternative fuels, such as (sustainably produced) biofuels; regulatory and operational measures such as improvements in air traffic management; economic measures such as inclusion of aircraft emissions in emission trading schemes.
But, as Giovanni Bisignani, manager of International Air Transport Association (IATA), stated: “Emissions trading schemes only make sense with efficient infrastructure. The IPCC estimates that there is 12% inefficiency in air traffic management globally: we produce up to 73 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year by aircraft flying inefficiently due to air traffic management limitations”. **
On a personal level we could ask ourselves especially in the developed world: “Do we really need to fly so frequently?” The use of telework, teleconference and video conference could be largely increased to plan work and meetings. Can’t the development of land and air transportation infrastructures be balanced better according to the real needs of people and businesses? Trains could connect cities better and more cheaply for example in Europe, where the prices are not competitive with those of many flights anymore (and night train services have been reduced if not cancelled).
Life styles do matter because if millions of people want to have cheap weekends in relatively close tourist locations, many flights are needed to satisfy their desires and consequently a lot of pollution is generated. Also, our per capita emissions could be cut also by reducing the “surplus” trips, by slowing down our life rhythms and enjoying more local attractions in our free time. Who knows? We could discover the “exotic” in our own neighborhoods without flying to the Caribbean Sea…
Furthermore the relationship between the costs and the environmental externalities (i.e. costs not included in the economy like health damages caused by pollution) needs to be considered as well: there are higher marginal impacts for short-distance flights that should be considered in prices paid by passengers.
All these political, technological and personal choices are some of the good examples needed by the developing countries to follow the 21st century’s Western society along a new sustainable path which looks like the only good alternative forward.