How many times have you travelled by aircraft in the last year?
The improvement in transport has brought us a lot of advantage, especially the advancement of airplane. In 2015, nearly 3.6 billion passengers were carried by the world’s airlines. We get to travel from countries to another, from one side of earth to another within hours. It connects peoples from different nations, and it creates great trading and job opportunities across countries. It is convenience, it is time saving, and it is exciting. I am sure everyone of us as kids had once (or until now) being overjoy when we travel on plane, flying in the sky. And as an oversea student, flying memory is bitter-sweet, it means leaving my comfort zone and my family, but it also means new journey and unforgettable life experience. But after all, who does not like travelling overseas. In 21st century, travelling on flight is no longer something luxury, weekend trip and business trip is already a part of our life. ( In 1945, it took 130 weeks for a person earning the average Australian wage to earn enough for the lowest Sydney to London return airfare. In 2009, it took just 1.7 weeks.) But what we left behind our trips?
Currently, the aviation industry is generating $746 billion in 2014, during its busiest times, 40 to 60 jets take off and land every hour. And air travel is ever growing since the adaptation of aviation to travelling, which increase 4-5% per year and passengers’ kilometer increased 5.2% every year. However, it is also a fastest-growing source of greenhouse emission in the transport field (increased by 87% between 1990 and 2006 ). Worldwide, flights produced 781 million tonnes of CO2 in 2015, which contribute 3% of the world’s total emission, and is ranked about 7th if counting aviation as a country.
Aviation, air-pollution and greenhouse effect
Aircraft engines produce emissions that are similar to other emissions resulting from fossil fuel combustion. Air-pollution is a great concern to many, such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxides and black carbon. Air-pollution is worse in heavy air traffic airport, whereas the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology stated the effect continues for up to 10 miles away from the airport. This research in the States also comment the LAX should be considered one of the most important sources of PN in Los Angeles. The report found higher levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and small (ultrafine) particles, that scientists attributed to airplane emissions.
Air-pollutants, especially ultrafine particles is threatening to health, as they deposit deeply into the lungs and can enter the bloodstream. The oxidative stress and resulting inflammation appear to play a role in the development of atherosclerosis and can make other health conditions worse, especially for people with existing cardiac or lung conditions including asthma.
Other than air-pollution, aviation is also contributing to greenhouse effect, which is through greenhouse gases emission of the aircraft engines.
What is greenhouse effect?
Greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and some artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). And greenhouse effect refers to the exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation that warms the Earth. In other word, heat radiated from sun to the Earth is trapped because of the greenhouse gases, and it is accounted for global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that aviation is responsible for around 3.5% of anthropogenic climate change, a figure which includes both CO2 and non-CO2 induced effects. The IPCC has produced scenarios estimating what this figure could be in 2050. It possibly could grow to 5% of the total contribution if action is not taken to tackle these emissions, though the highest scenario is 15%. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also projected by 2020, global international aviation emissions will be around 70% higher than in 2005 even if fuel efficiency improves by 2% per year. And they could grow by a further 300-700% by 2050.
For many years, aviation emissions are not under any international regulation. But due to the urgency of reducing the carbon emission globally, governments are getting serious in taking practical steps. Since the start of 2012, Europe Union has included all flight from, to and within Europe Economic Area in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) which includes the 28 EU Member States, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. These countries are under legislation that applies to all EU and non-EU airlines, where airlines receive tradable allowances covering a certain level of CO2emissions from their flights per year. In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also finalized the regulation paper for the regulation of greenhouses gases emission of domestic aircraft engine under the Clean Air Act.
The International Air Transport Association (ITAT) which represents 265 airlines also proposed the 4 pillar strategies to the aviation industry in slowing down the effect of climate change including,
- Improved technology, including the deployment of sustainable low-carbon fuels
- More efficient aircraft operations
- Infrastructure improvements, including modernized air traffic management systems
- A single global market-based measure, to fill the remaining emissions gap
Above all these, what can we do on a more personal level?
Be a green traveller
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” —Jane Goodall
We all know that greenhouse effect and global warming are not only bad to environment, but it is actually affecting our living standard to certain extend. People always say “Go Green” in dining or shopping, can we actually Go Green in travelling?
One of the way to be a green traveler, is to avoid plane trips, especially short haul (< 500 km) flights, which is suggested by WWO. You can always consider other public transport tools other than plane, like train. If it is a time for an oversea trip, or taking flight is unavoidable, carbon emission offset programs can be a brilliant option to help you go green in travelling.
In Australia, carbon emission offset programs are regulated by Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Scheme and need to be certified under National Carbon Offset Standard Carbon Neutral (NCOS CN) and there are 42 products and services/ organization that are carbon neutral. Qantas airline, Jetstar, and Virgin airline are currently available for Fly Carbon Neutral program. This program is voluntary for passengers to compensate the carbon gases that was emitted from the trip with a low monetary cost. And it includes different global projects to offset the carbon emission, conserving Tasmania’s Wilderness, empowering rainforest communities, improving Cambodia air qualities, and protecting the Peruvian Amazon for Qantas airline and Jetstar; and Tasmanian Land Conservancy – New Leaf Carbon Project for Virgin airline. Fly Carbon Neutral is the largest airline offset program in the world, and have already offset over 1.8 million tonnes of carbon emissions.
This is a video introducing the program.
You can also join other programs available after calculating your emission. We can easily calculate the carbon emission from our trip through Carbon Emission Calculator , which require you to enter the origin and destination only. I have tried using the calculator it for myself, and below are the results. I have travel 2 round-trip in the first 6 months in this year, a long holiday to Hong Kong, and a weekend trip to Melbourne.
From the results, we can know that I have contributed to 137 kg of carbon dioxide emission from these 2 trips.
And a round-trip to Bali (oh Bali, who does not like Bali?) will release 513.2kg of carbon dioxide per passengers. After knowing all these information, you can google search “carbon offset program” to compensate the emitted carbon through your trip.
Some other tips to “Go Green” in travelling: If you have the buffer time for research, choose airlines with higher occupancy rates and more efficient aircraft, this is another practical way to help in reducing carbon emission.
The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” —Lady Bird Johnson
And it is our responsibility to protect this one thing we all shared as global citizens.