Look, airlines get a huge amount of flack in the talk on climate change. That’s necessary and the talk on airlines can also be disproportionate to how much the industry emits (about 2.5% to global emissions which is about the same as our internet usage). Our cities didn’t suddenly become cleaner from stopped flights; they did largely because our road transport ground to a halt (around 14% of global emissions).
Airlines of course play a huge role in our problems and it’s likely they’ll continue increasing. Though we’re all switching up how we travel, the airline industry will likely rebound. We also don’t have the technology yet to simply switch commercial flights to more sustainable versions. Out of Covid we’re seeing a number of countries put in place a few starting measures to reduce domestic flights in place of far more effective transport, namely trains (France and Austria). We need to do far more of this; USA and Australia – looking specifically at you and your poor public transport. A number of countries in Asia can also do better for long distance and intercountry travel – you’ve got the tech, resources and smarts for this and have some fantastic inner city options.
BUT, we’re still going to be flying. We live in a globalized world. We fall in love. Many of us are immigrants and often didn’t have a choice in the matter (whether through circumstance, fleeing or parental decisions). Travel can also teach us so many things. And we’re still going to need to head out for work at times.
A new study analyzed what the world’s largest 58 airlines – which fly 70% of the total available seat kilometres – are doing to live up to their promises to cut their climate impact. For 2018, compared with 2017, the collective impact of all the climate measures being undertaken by the 58 biggest airlines amounted to an improvement of 1%. This falls short of the goal of a 1.5% increase in efficiency. And the improvements were more than wiped out by the overall 5.2% annual increase in emissions. Airline emissions rose 23% in just five years. Lots more pressure and work is needed. This is one area where technology will definitely be required.