As the world inches its way toward controlling the pandemic, there’s good news and bad news for those who cheer the return of global air travel. The very good news is that all of aviation generates just 1.9 percent of greenhouse emissions (according to ourworldindata.org) and per-passenger emission have dropped by 50 percent since 1990. Aviation can be proud of how aggressively it has focused on fuel efficiency and lowering its carbon footprint.
But as cited in an article by JoAnna Haugen, founder of Rooted, “a sustainable travel, environmental conservation platform,” the not-so-good news is that the number of people flying has increased dramatically, despite estimates that 80 percent of the world population doesn’t fly at all. And as well as aviation has done in cutting emissions related to tourism and other forms of world travel, she writes, “as other sectors decarbonize—and as the tourism industry itself decarbonizes through rewilding partnerships, lower-carbon tour options and other climate actions—aviation will become a larger proportion of emissions.”
Before tagging Haugan as anti-everything-aviation, however, it’s important that she also sides with aviation interests where and when credit is due. For example: “United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby’s response to the [carbon emissions] crisis is the Eco-Skies Alliance—a program for companies to partner with the airline in its investment of approximately 3.4 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) this year.” She also cites other airlines’ commitment to SAF, but then quotes academic skeptic Dr. Giulio Mattioli, who said, “The aviation industry has a long history of exaggerating how soon new clean technologies will be available, and how much they will help in reducing emissions.”
Haugen’s pendulum swings back to aviation interests when she cites airlines that are actively promoting rail service to replace short-haul flights. “Some airlines are taking a more grounded approach to their decarbonization efforts. Deutsche Bahn and the German Aviation Association have stated an interest in working together over the next decade to expand rail service and decrease short-haul flights in Germany. These plans could move approximately 4.3 million flight passengers to rail lines every year.”