Skip to content

Demand for air travel will have to be limited to meet industry CO2 targets

8th August, 2014

Global passenger demand will have to be substantially reduced in order for the aviation industry’s own target of carbon neutral growth from 2020 to be met according to new research by the University of Southampton’s Centre for Environmental Science.

The new study, which was published in the Atmospheric Environment journal, reviews the latest literature related to mitigating global CO2  emissions from aircraft.

The main findings of the research are:

  1. Even if targets of fuel efficiency improvements and use of alternative fuels are met, global aviation demand growth will mean that emissions from aircraft will continue to dramatically increase – meaning the industry will fail in its own goal of carbon neutral growth. This builds on research by Professor David Lee that highlighted the existence of an emissions gap between demand growth and technological improvements.
  2. In order to dampen demand and close the gap between growing emissions and technology improvements, the value of carbon would have to increase by hundred times its current value to sufficiently increase the cost of flying – translating to a 1.4% ticket price increase year on year (which would buck the ongoing trend of fare decreases)
  3. Introducing such measures would be strongly resisted by industry and governments and therefore the article calls for an international regulator with teeth in order to introduce measures to bring down aviation emissions
  4. According to the review, the UN body ICAO ‘lacks the legal authority to force compliance and therefore is heavily reliant on voluntary cooperation and piecemeal agreements’.

As a significant part of our work involves working with the ICAO process, the AEF welcomes the report as being important to increase the pressure on the international body to finally deliver action on emissions from international aviation.

AEF Director Tim Johnson, who regularly attends ICAO meetings and is currently working to develop a form of carbon trading that could work for international aviation, commented:

With environmental NGOs calling for urgent action to curtail aviation’s spiraling CO2 emissions, this report provides further evidence that the growth in demand for flights will outstrip technological and operational advances, reinforcing similar conclusions from the UK Committee on Climate Change and from the UN ICAO. So how do we close the gap?”

While industry is currently engaged in finding a means of offsetting emissions through a global market-based measure, this report introduces the idea of using price to dampen demand. Unpalatable as this may seem to many, it may well prove to be a necessary step if the challenges in implementing other measures cannot be overcome.”

Tim added:

For now, the focus is on ICAO to agree on urgent action by its next Assembly in 2016. The key ingredient to achieve this is international political agreement, which has been lacking in recent years. If this opportunity to agree on the introduction of an effective, global measure is missed, the calls for carbon charges will become even louder.


Direct carbon dioxide emissions from civil aviation by Grote, M., Williams, I and Preston, J. (2014) is available for purchase here.

Image credit: Jeff Kubina via Flickr

For any further information related to media, please phone 020 7248 2223