Need to reduce the aeronautical industry to contain global warming !!

Vehicle emissions used to be considered the biggest culprit in air pollution, but not anymore. With the projected increase of 8.2 billion passengers by 2025 and the expected industry revenue of $498 billion by 2022, there are growing concerns about the increased share of air pollution resulting from the aviation industry.

Aviation is currently one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global climate change. Air travel is also the most carbon-intensive activity an individual can do, according to the World Wide Fund. “The global aviation sector must now adopt a sustainable flight path, as the climate crisis is not going away. With aviation emissions unaddressed, we can expect big clouds​​ storm to come”, mentions the WWF.

Environmental activities, governmental and non-governmental organizations around the world are concerned about increasing carbon emissions from aircraft.

According to social activist and environmentalist Anil Sood, “An Airbus with 160 to 180 seats pollutes the equivalent of 336 diesel cars. Thus, each passenger pollutes the equivalent of 2.1/1.8 cars. In addition, the landing and take-off of aircraft negatively affects the 12.5 km radius of an area near the airport”.

He further said, “It has been observed that Delhi alone contributes nearly 30,000 tonnes of CO2 per day due to air traffic flying over its skies. The effect of air traffic on air quality was evident after covid-19 restrictions came into effect in 2020, during the first lockdown. With a complete ban on flights to and from Delhi, air quality has improved significantly and skies have cleared up. Everyone has realized the importance of air traffic in the degradation of the environment”.

According to the WWF, if the entire aviation industry was a country, it would be one of the top 10 carbon polluting countries on the planet. “Air travel is also currently the most carbon-intensive activity an individual can do. A passenger taking a flight from New York to London and back emits more emissions than an average person in Paraguay over the course of a ‘a whole year,’ he says.

The fastest growing sector in terms of contribution to air pollution

Airplane emissions are growing at a faster rate than any other mode of transportation. In Europe, CO2 emissions from flights have increased by 28% since 2013; while in India it grew by 64% from 2012 to 2019.

India has also seen significant growth in this sector. Its domestic traffic accounts for 69% of total air traffic in South Asia. India’s airport capacity is expected to cover around 1 billion trips a year by 2023, with the government pushing programs like UDAAN.

How does it impact the environment?

Aviation emissions are a major contributor to climate change. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has said that if the entire aviation sector was a country, it would be one of the 10 most carbon polluting countries on the planet.

In March this year, Minister of State for Civil Aviation, VK Singh, said in response to a written question: “From 2016 to 2020, Indian passenger airlines emitted approximately 84,322 kilotonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere”.

Health impact of air pollution

Although there is a heavy environmental cost associated with pollution from aircraft, it also represents huge health costs for India as well as the world. According to a Lancet study, worldwide, 6 to 7 million people die prematurely from air pollution every year.

In 2019, more than 1.6 million people died prematurely from air pollution in India, accounting for 17.8% of the total deaths in the country. In addition, respiratory diseases have increased among about 70% of Indian city dwellers.

In addition, atheir pollution reduces 2.2 years of life for each person, globally, while in India; it decreases by 7.6 years for each person, according to a report by the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).

In addition, the noise pollution created by airplanes leads to several physical and psychological disorders in humans, animals and birds. Residents of Dwarka and Vasant Kunj in New Delhi have been fighting a battle against noise pollution created by airplanes for 14 years through various lawsuits and public interest litigation (PIL). Both of these residential areas are close to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and planes pass through these areas almost every two minutes.

In a chat with The Statesman, Anil Sood, shared his observation of the sounds of aircraft landing and taking off exceeding 85 decibels in the Vasant Kunj area, which is well above the permitted level.

According to a report by the Indian Medical Association, sound over 80 decibels not only damages human ears, but also has a detrimental effect on the whole body, affecting heart rate and blood pressure.

Economic loss due to air pollution

A combined report submitted by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) suggests that air pollution costs $2.9 trillion, or 3.3% of the World GDP. According to the Weforum report, India loses $95 billion every year, or 3% of its total GDP and around 150% of its health budget, to air pollution.

Should we ban short flights and fly less?

Seeing the seriousness of the increasing pollution from planes, Anil Sood suggested banning missing flights like France did a few days ago.

He also proposed to have flights with a minimum distance of 1000 km to decrease carbon emissions from aircraft. He put logical reasoning behind it; in India, short distance journeys from other modes of transport take almost the same time as airplanes. It also reduces your travel costs and your carbon footprint.

On the other hand, according to an aviation expert and former chief executive of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), GS Bawa, “It is only for the sake of the environment that we should not stop flights. We need to think from the perspective of affordability and economies of scale. As a developing country, trade, commerce and regional connectivity should be the points of concern”.

He added: “In addition, for cost reduction and sustainability, the industry is investing in research and development of low-emission aircraft and alternative fuels. Electric planes are also in the works. Biofuels and hydrogen-based fuels are being considered for adoption.”

Various action plans are being adopted to reduce pollution from aircraft, globally

Despite the major impact of CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, there are no rules or guidelines to combat the problem. However, countries do this individually. A few days ago, France took a major leap forward by issuing stricter air traffic guidelines. It banned short flights to and from places, which otherwise can be covered between 2.5 and 4 hours by train.

To reduce carbon emissions, Japan has re-routed its flights. By diverting less than 2% of flights, Japan has reduced the warming effect of aircraft by nearly 60%. European countries are working on synthetic fuels and advanced waste biofuels.

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), research is being done on e-fuels, hydrogen, electric planes and AI-based planes.

Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group, the Transport and Environment organisation, suggests that it is currently difficult to reduce emissions in the aviation sector. Also, it needs huge funding for research related to the above factors.

The only action that can be taken to reduce aviation emissions is to educate people and make them aware of the reasonable use of air travel.

As governments consider how to develop comprehensive climate plans for aviation, they should build them on five pillars:

  • Promote alternatives to air transport Increase the fuel efficiency of aircraft
  • Developing more sustainable aviation fuels, whether liquid fuels or electricity
  • Remove carbon from the atmosphere by investing in renewable energy, carbon credits and nature-based climate solutions
  • Mitigation of the effects of CO2-free exhaust gases in the atmosphere

Teresa H. Sadler