Will aviation hinder climate change efforts?

Yesterday, the European Parliament approved overwhelmingly the ratification of the Paris Agreement, showing significant amounts of political support to hold global warming below two degrees Celsius. Thought to be a progressive stride towards addressing climate change globally, ratification will undoubtedly change how many in infrastructure do business.

In the UK today the industry is keenly concerned about the project pipeline, with many decisions about connectivity infrastructure still expected this autumn. Chief among which is an expected decision on aviation around London.

But will aviation continue to hinder climate change efforts?

The Paris Agreement does not activate until parties representing a cumulative 55% of current global emissions ratify it. If EU member states ratify this agreement the threshold will be achieved, activating the agreement. While supported politically, the impacts on carbon producing sectors must be understood in order to develop a strategy to achieve Paris Agreement goals.

However this agreement, and subsequent climate change efforts will not be inclusive of aviation.

Aviation is undeniably a current major contributor to carbon pollution and while many optimistically believe that new aviation innovations will lead to an ability to cut carbon, the technology does not yet exist in a form that can be widely implemented.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research looked at the data on aviation’s impact on pollution and concludes in their new report that the current state of the aviation industry is unable to deliver the desired cuts in carbon emissions necessary for other industries to comply with the Paris Agreement.

By the national-total nature of the Paris Agreement, other industries will have to make carbon cuts compensating for the aviation industry’s carbon pollution, yet this is not assured as other industries will likely object to the environmental pressures and economic outlay necessary whilst the aviation industry receives reprieve due to the high polluting nature of their activities. 

The Tyndall Centre report advocates lessening aviation demand as a necessary action by the global community in order to comply with its two degree Celsius commitments across the board. 

Yet this seems unlikely, as demand for aviation is predicted to increase not decrease over the coming years. For the industry and politicians alike, this report raises firm questions about the commercial and infrastructural burdens of climate change amidst new project approvals, further underlining the need for innovative solutions. 

At the very least, such sectoral analysis on climate change reveals the need for industry as well as expert involvement in any overarching political strategies to conquer climate change, since without industry commitments or solutions that are inclusive of aviation, the Paris Agreement and other political climate change efforts will falter.

As the Paris Agreement moves to be formally approval by the European Council, and member states work towards individually ratifying the Paris Agreement, the role of the industry and high polluting sectors such as aviation must be considered.