The Flight to Sustainability: Sustainable Transitions in the Aviation Industry

To effectively meet sustainability and net-zero targets, all sectors of the global economy must decarbonise, in other words, reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. To jump-start and catalyse these goals, however, certain sectors and industries must be prioritised, notably those that are mass emitters of greenhouse gases, and therefore mass contributors to climate change. Of these sectors is transportation in its entirety, as it contributes to over a fifth of global emissions since most of the sector is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. While light vehicles are the dominant category when analysing emissions distribution, due to prevalence and frequency of use, the aviation sector is also a considerable polluter with expected increases in emissions as the world’s demand increases.

Globalisation has led to the ease of accessibility and affordability of transportation through flights. The deregulation of the airline industry in the late 1970s meant that what was once a luxury enjoyed only by society’s upper class has become accessible to the masses. Thus, the rapid increase in consumer demand for flights caused a boom among commercial airline companies with the world’s skies hosting an average of 100,000 flights a day in 2019. While this number slightly decreased during the COVID-19 Pandemic, flights are on the rise once again. Along with this increase in flights came a massive increase in emissions, going as high as 255g of emissions/passenger/kilometre compared to 154g of emissions from a small petrol car, or 41g of emissions from trains. These figures could be even higher, due to variations in distance, plane occupancy, and plane model. This means a short, roughly hour-long flight from London to Edinburgh releases the same emissions that 5 fully-grown trees would absorb in an entire year.


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