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Calculating the true climate impact of aviation emissions

(CarbonBrief, 21 Sep 2020) Before the Covid-19 pandemic and its lockdown restrictions, air travel had become an almost unquestioned facet of modern-day life for many affluent nations and individuals – almost as much as the car.

Data for 2018 shows the global population flying more frequently – and over longer distances than ever before – with nearly 38m scheduled flights, carrying 4.3bn passengers over a total of 54bn km. Aviation has been growing at around 5% per year before 2020. 

But what is the climate cost of all these flights? The oft-quoted figure is that aviation accounts for around 2% of global CO2 emissions. Yet, the impact of aviation on the climate goes beyond just CO2 and its emissions have complicated interactions in the atmosphere that can reinforce the warming impact.

Aviation’s climate impacts have been studied for many years, including a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1999, but rarely are all the results pulled together to produce such a comprehensive analysis and assessment based on the best available science.

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CarbonBrief, 21 Sep 2020: Calculating the true climate impact of aviation emissions