All climate change charts and graphics on this website that say they are created by Barry Saxifrage are licensed for free re-use and modification under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Our Climate Change Articles
Go to Site Index See "Our Climate Change Articles" main page
General · 1st March 2008
Barry Saxifrage
Excerpted from Clearing the Air, by European Federation for Transport and Environment

In Europe, much progress has been made on
climate policy and reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions, except in the area of flying.

Myth: Aviation makes only a minor contribution to climate change: 2 to 3%.
Reality: This error is repeated in nearly every article about flying impacts. In reality aviation is currently responsible for up to 10% worldwide and up to 12% in the EU. The best science on this, the IPCC Special Report on Aviation, says climate changing emissions from high-altitude flight is 2 to 5 times the CO2 emissions alone. The extra global warming effect comes from NOx and water vapour emissions.

Myth: Aviation climate change emissions will stay a tiny percent of global emissions even into the future. A common statement is that by 2030 they are estimated to be only 5% of EU total emissions.
Reality: Aviation is already responsible for 5%-12% and emissions are growing ~5% per year. According to the Tyndall Centre on Climate Change, in the most optimistic scenario aviation emissions for UK will amount to 40% of total allowed national emissions by 2050; in the most pessimistic scenario aviation emissions will equal 100% of total allowed emissions for UK by 2036. Other sectors of society and the economy will have to make more painful cuts than currently required if aviation emissions are allowed to continue growing for even a few more years.

Myth: The aviation industry has continuously improved fuel efficiency.
Reality: Aircraft manufactured in the early 1950s – such as the Lockheed Constellation – were virtually as efficient as the aircraft sold today. In short, the aviation industry has made almost no improvement in fuel efficiency over the last fifty years.

Myth: Per passenger kilometre modern aircraft are more climate-friendly than cars.
Reality: Aviation is between two and ten times more climate-intensive than surface transport. When it comes to freight transport, aviation is even worse. The external costs of aircraft-related climate change are approximately ten times greater than for lorries (trucks), the second worst mode. In addition, the climate impact per € or per hour spent is approximately ten times more for aviation than other modes of transport.

Myth: The economic contribution of aviation is far greater than its contribution to climate change.
Reality: It’s the other way round. Airlines cause 4%-9% global human-induced climate change, and contribute 1% to global GDP and 0.1% to global employment.

Myth: The aviation sector covers the full costs of its operations and infrastructure.
Reality: All parts of the aviation industry – airlines, airports and manufacturers – are directly subsidised and enjoy major tax exemptions. Tax Exemptions: fuel taxes and VAT on ticket sales are prohibited on all international flights. Only a very small minority of countries levy (small) ticket taxes or fuel taxes on domestic flights – but by no means enough to compensate for the general exemption of the sector. Even the purchase of aircraft is exempt from VAT. Subsidies: “Since 1991 governments in the EU have paid over €20 billion in rescue aid for airlines; the US administration has supported its industry to the tune of $32 billion since 2001”. In addition, USA says Airbus has received €30 billion in loans and subsidies, while EU says Boeing has received $30 billion.

Myth: An aviation fuel tax is a blunt and ineffective instrument.
Reality: Unlike road transport fuels, aviation fuels are almost entirely exempt from fuel tax. But an aviation fuel tax leads to ‘double dividends’: lower pollution and higher employment. A tax of 0.125€ per litre (only one-fi fth the level on road fuels) would already reduce aviation CO2 emissions by 10% – while using the revenues to lower taxes on labour would create over half a million jobs in the EU.

Myth: More expensive air travel is bad news for the poor.
Reality: It’s the rich that fly, even in this era of low-cost carriers – if aviation paid its true costs we could help the poor a lot more. It is the preferred mode of transport for developed countries and the well off. The poor, relying mostly on road transport, pay high fuel taxes for their transport, while the wealthier frequent flyer folks can burn huge amounts of fuel tax-free. In EU, aviation saves 30 to 40% on costs by avoiding the fuel taxes that drivers must pay.

Article originally published in the March/April 2008 edition of the Watershed Sentinel