Fly more, pollute less – the big puzzle of aviation


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Paris (AFP)

The aviation sector is faced with a great dilemma: how to achieve its ambition to double the number of passengers while achieving its objective of reducing its massive greenhouse gas emissions?

Reducing pollution from industry is one of the main challenges facing the world as leaders gather later this month for a key climate summit in Britain.

– It’s serious ? –

Airlines carried 4.5 billion passengers in 2019, emitting 900 million tonnes of CO2, or 2% of total global emissions.

The number of passengers is expected to double by 2050, which means a parallel doubling of CO2 if no action is taken.

As the industry has sought to increase carbon efficiency, it is increasingly facing pressure from environmentalists and social movements such as “Flygskam” (“shame of theft”), which appeared in Sweden in 2018.

Between 2009 and 2019, carriers improved their energy efficiency by 21.4%, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). But that was not enough to prevent the sector’s emissions from rising.

– What are the promises? –

IATA committed earlier this month to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, after previously targeting a reduction of just 50%.

A group representing European airlines, airports and aerospace companies has made a similar commitment.

At state level, the European Union hopes to reduce its emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, including aviation.

The United States intends to reduce the sector’s share of emissions by one-fifth by the end of this decade.

– What’s the flight plan? –

The European group of airlines, airports and aerospace companies hope that half of the emissions targets can be met with more fuel efficient engines, the emergence of hydrogen and electric propulsion and better management of air traffic.

But IATA says such measures would only contribute 14 percent of the effort.

Plans to achieve the net zero goal also rely on carbon offsetting programs, such as tree planting, which NGOs say do not solve the problem.

– Role of sustainable fuel –

“If there is a silver bullet to decarbonizing aviation, it is sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs),” said Brian Moran, Boeing vice president of sustainable development public policies.

IATA hopes to achieve two-thirds of its emission reductions by using SAFs – unconventional fuels derived from organics, including cooking oil and algae.

The European Commission will require AFS to account for at least 2% of aviation kerosene by 2025, rising to 5% by 2030 and 63% by 2050.

Aviation giants Boeing and Airbus say their planes will burn 100% of SAFs by the end of this decade.

SAFs, which are four times more expensive than kerosene, accounted for less than 0.1% of the fuel used in aviation in 2019.

The United States is proposing a tax credit to encourage the use of FAS while the EU wants to impose a new tax on kerosene for flights within the bloc of 27 countries.

– It’s doable ? –

Biofuels are a finite resource.

“We have estimated that by 2050, advanced biofuels from residues (will) cover (only) 11% of aviation needs,” explains Jo Dardenne of the European Federation of Transport and Environment NGOs (T&E).

The aeronautics sector also relies on synthetic fuels, or e-fuels, made with hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources and with CO2 captured in the atmosphere.

Electric fuels are expected to be the main type of SAF in the future.

But Timur Gul, head of energy technology policy at the International Energy Agency, said replacing just 10% of petroleum-based jet fuel with electric fuels would require the equivalent of power generation. of Spain and France combined.

Dardenne says the technologies being considered to reduce emissions require a lot of energy. What is needed, he says, is “to reduce demand”, that is to say, to fly less.

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