Brussels, 30 Jun 2006
Preliminary results from an EU-funded project show that the contribution of the aviation sector to global carbon emissions will increase in the coming decades, as increases in total air traffic outstrip improvements in technology.
According to researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University's Centre for Air Transport and the Environment, aviation will account for five per cent of carbon emissions in 2050, compared to just two per cent now.
The scientists created baseline scenarios using traffic predictions from a range of sources, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Air traffic levels in 2050 are predicted to be six to eight times higher than those of 2000. Unfortunately, technological solutions to increased pollution are lagging behind the growth of the industry.
'This research confirms that the aviation sector is forecast to make up a considerable proportion of global emissions in the future,' said David Lee, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the MMU. 'The results highlight that the rate of growth of aviation is far outstripping the rate of technological progress and improvements in efficiency.'
The research was carried out as part of a wider EU project called QUANTIFY, which aims to determine the relative effects of different modes of transport - road, rail, air and sea - on the climate. The results of the project, which is due to run until 2010, will provide governments and industry with information to help them plan future transport policies.
This latest study only looks at the CO2-related impacts of aviation on the climate, and more research is still needed into the impacts on the climate of other aviation emissions, such as ozone and contrails, which Prof. Lee described as 'potentially more worrying'.
Researchers at the University of Reading recently published a study detailing how night flights have a greater impact on the climate than day flights. Contrails contribute to global warming by trapping energy emitted from the Earth's surface and atmosphere. During the day, this warming effect is partially counterbalanced as the contrails reflect some of the sun's energy back into space. However, this cooling effect only works when the sun is up, while the warming effect is active both day and night. Overall, the researchers found that while night flights account for just one in four flights in the UK, they are responsible for at least 60 per cent of the global warming associated with contrails.
Earlier research by Lee and colleagues also found that flying 2,000 metres below standard altitudes also lead to a reduction in contrails of almost 50 per cent.