skip to content | Accessibility Information

Carbon emissions from aviation growing

Published: 23rd June 2006

Image for Carbon emissions from aviation growing

Air traffic is set to mushroom by 2050

AVIATION will account for 5% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2050, according to the latest climate change study by UK scientists.

In 2000, air traffic contributed 2% of global carbon emissions, but that figure will grow to 5% by 2050, according to climate modellers at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Scientists at MMU’s Centre for Air Transport and the Environment calculated C0² emissions based on traffic predictions from sources including the International Civil Aviation Organisation.*

Their study produced two broad baseline scenarios representing an increase in total emissions between of four and six-fold on 2000 levels.

Improvements in technology

The forecasts account for improvements in technology and air traffic management as total air traffic is predicted to increase by six-eight times by 2050.

But they say technological solutions to increased pollution lag well behind growth of the industry.

Preliminary results will be presented to the Transport, Atmosphere and Climate conference jointly staged by CATE and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) at Oxford University on June 26-29, in the presence of Minister for Transport Douglas Alexander.

CATE’s David Lee, Professor of Atmospheric Science at MMU, said: "This research confirms the message from the Aviation White Paper that the aviation sector is forecast to make up a considerable proportion of global emissions in the future.

"The results highlight that the rate of growth of aviation is far outstripping the rate of technological progress and improvements in efficiency, he said.

Huge Euro study

The results are part of a huge EC audit of emissions called QUANTIFY which is looking at the relative effects of different modes of transport – road, rail, air and sea – on the climate.

The study also indicates that shipping could have a stronger effect than aviation from its CO².

Professor Lee said much more research was needed into the non C0² effects of aviation emissions –ozone, contrails, cirrus clouds – which have been described as "potentially more worrying".


* The estimates use traffic predictions from the International Civil Aviation Organisation to 2025 and are modelled using the same technique as was employed by the International Panel on Climate Change from 2025 to 2050.

- Other (non C0²) radiative effects – impacts of contrails, cirrus clouds etc have not yet been calculated.

- The scenarios build upon previous work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1999.

- The TAC conference at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, attracts 150 scientists and follows two prior events in 2000 and 2003 and is funded by the Department for Transport, whose chief scientist Professor Frank Kelly will give the opening address.

About The Centre for Air Transport and the Environment (CATE): CATE researches climate, air quality and noise impacts of aviation. It comprises three professors, three associated academics and an active research staff of 13. CATE was recently awarded a £5 million competitive-bid grant from the Higher Education Innovation Fund to lead a cross UK university knowledge transfer activity on aviation and the environment – The OMEGA Project. CATE staff provide advice to UK government on technical aspects relating to aviation impacts on climate and air quality at a global level.