Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the European Commission, airlines contribute to about 3% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions which doesn’t seem like a lot. However, air transport generates 600 million tonnes of CO2 a year and other factors of air travel, such as nitrogen oxides and water vapour in high atmospheric layers are estimated to have an impact even two to five times higher than that of CO2.


In October last year, Extinction Rebellion protested at London City Airport to raise awareness of the problem. One of the protesters, former Paralympic cyclist James Brown, glued himself to the top of a British Airways plane. Another protester managed to ground a flight to Dublin as he got up from his seat and started giving a lecture on climate change just as the Aer Lingus plane was on the runway and about to take off. The pilot had to taxi back to the gate where a throng of police escorted the man off the plane and completed a full security check of the aircraft before it could depart.


In order to reduce the large amount of emissions in the aviation industry, the International Air Transport Association have a cap on CO2 emissions from this year and aim to have a 50% reduction by 2050. The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation requires all airlines to report their CO2 emissions annually.


Ryanair claims to be Europe’s “greenest” airline, stating that their current CO2 emissions per passenger per kilometre are 23% lower than the average of Europe’s other four major airlines, Lufthansa, IAG, Air France-KLM and EasyJet. When booking flights, customers can also make a donation to Ryanair’s climate charity partners, including First Climate and the Native Woodland Trust. However, the EU’s Transport & Environment group named Ryanair in a list of Europe’s top 10 CO2 emitters, seeing that the airline’s CO2 emissions increased by nearly half from 2013 to 2018. Earlier in February, the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency banned advertisements from Ryanair that depicted it as Europe’s lowest emissions airline and ordered the low-cost carrier to withdraw their misleading claims.


In reaction to aviation’s vast impact on climate change, some people have given up flying in order to offset their carbon footprint. In Sweden, the phenomenon is known as “flygskam”, or flight shame. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg refuses to fly, often travelling by rail or boat instead and over the course of last year, she has inspired many others to be more active themselves. As environmental awareness is on the rise, it comes as little surprise that Ryanair is trying to win this new kind of consumers’ favour. And they are not alone: In October last year, IAG, a multinational airline holding company which owns Aer Lingus, shared their plans to have zero net carbon emissions by 2050. In the United States, Delta Air Lines plans to invest $1 billion to lessen its environmental impact and aims to become the first-ever carbon-neutral airline.


Although giving up flying altogether is the most effective way to travel environmentally friendly, there are a few things for individuals to consider if air travel is necessary. According to the Guardian, day-time flights have a less negative impact on the climate than night-time flights, which is connected to the contrails caused by planes. Researchers believe that they add to the greenhouse effect by stopping heat escaping from the Earth. During the day-time, those contrails will at least reflect incoming sunlight away from the Earth, whereas in the night, that’s not possible. Another important factor is the amount of luggage brought on a flight. The more it weighs, the more energy will be used. Therefore, individuals can make an impact by simply packing just the most important things.


According to an Ipsos MRBI exit poll during the general election, only 6% of people said that climate change was a deciding factor in who they voted for. However, this global crisis  needs to be taken seriously by everyone and must be a priority for the new government, as it will greatly affect our future.



Photo by Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash



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