Climate Impact of Flying Could Be Two Thirds Higher Than Thought

Photo-illustration: Unsplash (Pascal Meier)

The EU’s proposed green aviation law overlooks the true climate cost of flying, with the non-CO2 effects of air travel producing two to four times the impact of carbon emissions, a Green MEP has said.

Ciarán Cuffe, a Green MEP who is shadow rapporteur for the ReFuelEU Aviation file in the European Parliament’s transport committee, has called for the EU’s clean aviation fuels law to be amended to include so-called non-CO2 effects.

This includes the release of soot and harmful gases, including sulphur and nitrogen oxide, as well as water vapour, from jet engines.

At high altitudes, these emissions can cause the formation of contrails, which have a net warming effect much larger than CO2, according to a 2020 EU study.

The emissions can also damage human health, which is of particular concern to those living in the vicinity of airports.

“We know that the non CO2 effects of aviation represent two thirds of the sector’s overall climate impact, but it remains unregulated,” said Cuffe.

“It’s not credible to delay by another decade and rely solely on voluntary industry efforts. This hasn’t worked up until now, and it won’t work in the future,” he added.

The Irish MEP has tabled an amendment mandating a progressive reduction of the aromatic and sulphur content of aviation fuels, two elements responsible for much of the non-CO2 pollution released by planes.

Under Cuffe’s amendment, aromatics would be capped at 8 per cent of kerosene by 1 June 2023, down from the standard of roughly 20 per cent at present.