Climate protection in aviation

Air traffic currently contributes around 3% to 5% to the total anthropogenic warming, depending on which climate-relevant substances are considered. And Its pollution is forecast to triple by 2050.

Flights to, from and within the EU account for around a third of the climate contribution of civil global aviation.

Since 2012, international aviation has been included in EU emissions trading to limit CO 2 emissions. According to Directives 2008/101/EC and 2009/29/EC, the CO 2 emissions of all flights to, from and within the so-called EEA countries (the European Economic Area includes the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) are subject to a number of exceptions – the emissions trading obligation.

The International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) is the UN organization for civil air transport and thus the world’s highest political decision-making body for this type of transport. In autumn 2013, the 38th ICAO General Assembly decided to develop a global market-based measure (GMBM) to limit CO2 emissions from aviation. This goal was to implement it by autumn 2016 so that the climate protection instrument can come into force in 2020.

In December 2015 in Paris, nations agreed to cut carbon pollution within their borders and hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 °CHowever, the Paris Agreement didn’t address what should be done about the pollution spewed out of aircraft that flies between different countries.

The ICSA plan to cut aviation global warming pollution requires further development of the the currently applicable EU emissions trading directive for aviation and its enforcement in the EU member countries.

Climate protection in aviation: principles

Air transport is essentially a cross-border mode of transport and is subject to intense international competition. It differs fundamentally from rail and road traffic.

  • Internationally coordinated interventions by the legislature to levy duties and taxes are neutral in terms of competition and do not distort the competitiveness of companies operating on the market among themselves.
  • National solo efforts, however, hit the companies that do their core business with departures from their home country far disproportionately. In such a case, all essential flights of these affected companies are subject to the nationally decreed levy. Their competitors are only affected to a small extent because they mainly organize their flight operations from their home airports. However, since the local airlines cannot pass on these nationally prescribed taxes and duties 1:1 to the customers due to the strong international competition, such national solo efforts lead to considerable distortions of competition to the detriment of the local companies.
  • International air traffic is subject to strong competition and customers are very price sensitive. Therefore, distortions of competition lead to a shift in passenger flows. Instead of via hubs in the EU, passenger flows then pass via hubs outside the EU, which have advantageous competitive conditions.

The shifting of passenger flows to hubs outside the EU is tantamount to shifting CO₂ emissions to third countries, so-called carbon leakage.

Climate protection strategy of international aviation

The goal of CO₂ neutrality by 2050 will be achieved – despite further traffic growth – through a bundle of complementary measures:

Improvements in technology: New propulsion systems, more efficient engines, lighter materials and other advances in aviation technology can lead to a reduction in CO₂ emissions. Depending on the scenario, these measures can account for between 12 percent and 34 percent of the necessary CO₂ savings by 2050.

Efficient operation: 7 to 10 percent of the CO₂ reduction can be achieved through improvements in operation. Increases in efficiency are possible at all points in air traffic operations, in the air (e.g. increasing aircraft utilization), on the ground (e.g. using ground power, reducing taxi times) and in air traffic management (e.g. avoiding detours and waiting patterns). ).

Alternative aviation fuels: SAF represent the greatest lever and the most important measure for reducing CO₂ emissions. Since the market ramp-up of these fuels will take some time and availability in the required quantities is not expected until late, the reduction of CO₂ be supported by compensatory measures (offsets, more on this from p. 30). By 2050, between 53 and 71 percent of the CO₂ reduction should be made possible through the use of alternative aviation fuels.

Compensation: CO₂ compensation through market-based instruments will continue to play a role in compensating for all those CO₂ emissions that cannot be avoided through technical innovations and improved methods of reducing consumption or by replacing fossil kerosene with CO₂-neutral fuels . Compensation reduces the remaining 6 to 8 percent CO₂ emissions.

Efficient aircraft: reducing consumption and emissions

  • The most effective way to reduce CO₂ emissions is to invest in energy-efficient aircraft and flight procedures, because each new generation of aircraft burns around 25 percent less kerosene and emits correspondingly less CO₂. Important parameters here are improvements to the engines, aerodynamics and weight.
  • The industry wants to continue on the path of equipping aircraft fleets with more energy-efficient aircraft. German airlines have currently ordered 205 fuel-efficient aircraft at a list price totaling EUR 48 billion. These investments will further reduce the specific CO₂ emissions each year.
  • Electric drives, whose electricity is generated from renewable sources such as sun and wind, can also make a contribution to further CO₂ reduction. In the longer term, however, the batteries that can store the necessary amount of electricity will still be too heavy to replace the current technology in an aircraft. For this reason, the further path leads more to hybrid drives that generate the required electricity with alternative fuels.

Decreasing CO2 emissions at the airport

EU airports make a contribution to reducing emissions on the ground. E.g. between 2010 and 2021, German airports were already able to reduce their CO₂ emissions by 35 percent.Emission reduction levers include:
  • Use of regenerative energies (e.g. solar power, wind power),
  • Optimization of soil processes,
  • Construction of sustainable buildings with low energy consumption,
  • Optimization of airport-specific systems,
  • Use of alternative vehicle drives such as electric motors.

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The airports have also set themselves goals for the future:

  • German airports will reduce their own CO₂ emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 2010.
  • French airports will reduce their CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990s.
  • Destination 2050 = net zero CO2 emissions for all flights departing Europe. Adhering to the Airports Council International (ACI EUROPE) commitment, the European airport industry aims at becoming emissions neutral latest by 2050.
  • Nearly 100 airports aim at reaching net zero by 2030. 10 airports in Sweden (operated by Swedavia) have already achieved net zero carbon emissions.
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