Environmental Impacts of Aviation – Global Warming

How bad can Global Warming affect our life?

Global warming is one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing humankind. The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 0.76℃ since 1850 (European Commission Environment, 2009 1). The serious consequences of global warming are likely to endanger humanity and our lifestyle by a rise in sea levels, and a greater frequency and severity of extreme weather events (Greenpeace, 2009 2). These cause emissions of carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse house gas (GHG) responsible for climate change.

To protect our environment, the members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have stepped forward to reduce their required GHG levels since the Kyoto Protocol has entered into the enforcement in 2005.

Global Warming Cycle in Society(Picture embedded from Wikispaces on 15 April 2009)

How can the Aviation Industry correspond to the situation of Global Warming?

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) reported that the aviation industry has produced 2 per cent of the total GHG emissions in the world, and 13 per cent in the transport sector since 1992 (ICAO, 2007 3).

On the other hand, the estimate for annual growth rate of the air transportation is 5 per cent between 1990 and 2015. As a result, it will lead to an increase in total fuel consumption, which contributes to a rise in GHG emissions up to 3 per cent by 2050.

However, the framework of the Kyoto Protocol does not include the GHG emissions from the aviation sector since aircraft cross border in the sky, but the Protocol requires the industry to contribute to the GHG reductions under no binding treaty.

Clean Environmental Schemes for Global Warming

Unlike reductions in noise and air quality, reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) need a serious commitment of reductions in fuel consumption. In 2001, the ICAO introduced a new framework, called Market Based Options (MBO) that attract a great deal of attention to invest in clean environmental schemes (ICAO, 2007 3). In the near future, reductions in the GHG emission might be able to be exchanged as trading credits in the marketplace.

Three types of mechanisms for MBO are:
1. Voluntary Measures
2. Emissions Related Charges
3. Emission Trading

Since the beginning of 2005 an emission trading system has been in effect within EU countries, but the aviation sector is still excluded from the system. EU countries are now hoping to implement the emission trading into the aviation sector after 2011.

Solutions for environmental problems in Aviation

In recent years, some airlines are very aware of global warming issue and have taken actions such as researching for bio-fuel and replacing to new aircraft like Airbus A380 and Boeing B787. These actions will result in reductions both for operation costs and GHG emissions by carbon management (ICAO, 2007 3).

In particular, carbon management is widely applied for the airline management, in order to create more efficient and economical environment in flight operations. In general, airlines use the concept of 5R strategies for carbon management as follows:

1. Revamp (Network Strategy) – match demand and supply in route selections
2. Renew (Fleet Strategy) – renew and dispose fleet
3. Reduce (Operation Strategy) – operation, maintenance and loading
4. Recover (CRS activities) – protect an ecological system
5. Reimburse (Emission Trading) – establish mechanism or voluntary measures

Videos show examples of clean environmental schemes by airlines are following:

Carbon Management in EU

Video embedded from YouTube on 15 April 2009

Air New Zealand Biofuel Test Flight Underway

Video embedded from YouTube on 15 April 2009

Corporate Social Responsibility at KLM

Video embedded from YouTube on 15 April 2009

Recycling, Reusing, Reducing in Aviation

Carbon Management is not only an option for global warming problem; the whole industry has made efforts for seeking new options to stop global warming in aviation.

Key words for developing new ideas are 3R “Recycle, Reuse, Reduce”.

Videos introduce examples of the aviation industry partners’ ideas for 3R.

Recycling Boeing airplanes

Video embedded from YouTube on 15 April 2009

Old Denver Airport has Turned Green

Video embedded from YouTube on 15 April 2009

Lastly, there are no best solutions for stopping global warming. Bio-fuel, environmentally friendly aircraft, recycling aviation products and wastes are all effective measures.
However, growing issues of the aviation such as air traffic congestion by increasing cheap flights and an increase in fuel consumption by using old fleet and more…are creating barriers for managing future clean environment. Therefore, we need to keep thinking new ideas and challenge for it.

1. European Commission Environment. (2009). Climate Change. Retrieved from European Commission Environment on 15 April 2009.
2. Green Peace. (2009). Impacts of climate change. Retrieved from Green Peace on 15 April 2009.
3. ICAO (2007). Environmental report 2007. Retrieved from
ICAO on 16 April 2009.

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