Press release 2018-10-01

Mapping the impact of aviation emissions is vital for the continued amelioration of climate impact

Energy-efficient airplanes, biofuels and optimized flightpaths are today the main methods used to offset the climate impact of flying. A new report shows that it is possible to further reduce this by reaching a deeper understanding of the effects of short-lived climate pollution (SLCP) emissions.

IVL Swedish Environment Research Institute, together with the Swedish Meterological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI), the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration and Swedavia, has compiled current research findings to assess the possibilities for reducing the climate impact of aircraft flying within the Swedish airspace.

– There are many factors to take into consideration, and it is difficult to assess aviation’s overall climate impact. In addition to CO2, other emissions trigger a series of atmospheric processes that also affect climate. Current studies hold these processes responsible for a significant warming effect – considerably higher per tonne than that of many emissions occurring at ground level. Thus, in order to optimize climate impact measures, the entire emission chain must be taken into account – not just the carbon dioxide emissions by themselves, says Jana Moldanova, project manager at IVL.

SLCP emissions, caused by aviation trigger both heating and cooling. Even contrails, water vapor emissions from aircraft engines, and other processes affecting cirrus clouds have a significant climate impact, which in this particular case can be both positive and negative. The net result depends on duration, location and prevailing conditions and whether the focus is on immediate short-term impact or long-term cumulative effects.

To reduce aircraft climate impact, airlines primarily optimize flight paths to reduce fuel consumption and in consequence CO2 emissions. The admixture of biofuels is becoming increasingly common and the report also presents an overview of the state of knowledge about biofuels and their climate impact compared to fossil jet fuels, as well as sustainability issues they give rise to.

– It is also possible to reduce aviation’s overall climate impact by adopting alternative routing strategies designed to reduce SLCP impact. A lot of aviation research has been carried in both Sweden and the rest of Europe, but we still know too little to have come up with any easy answers, says Jana Moldanova.

Read the report here

For more information, please contact:
Jana Moldanova, jana.moldanova@ivl.se, +46 (0)10-788 67 63