According to Deputy Minister Marcin Horała, in terms of ecology, aviation has become a “whipping boy”, although it is responsible for only a few percent of all transport emissions, “let alone emissions in general”. First, the data is slightly different. Secondly, counting carbon dioxide emissions in tons, aviation causes more than the German economy.
Deputy Minister of Funds and Regional Policy, and at the same time the government plenipotentiary for the Central Communication Port, Marcin Horała, was asked on March 14 on TVP 1 whether the construction of aviation infrastructure – such as the CPK – “doesn’t conflict with some trend for the coming decades”. To the suggestion that it may turn out that around the world “flying will be tightened and reduced” because “there is a problem when it comes to ecology in relation to transport”, the deputy minister replied that he was against this trend. Then he added: “Short-haul flights are the most emissive. For example, in France, a restriction has been introduced that there are no flights at all on certain short distances, because what is to replace them? High-speed rail. The one we are building as part of the CPK program in Poland “. Then he stated:
Of course, aviation in general is such a whipping boy. One could get the impression that it is responsible for an unknown amount of this emission, and this is even a few percent of the emissions of the entire transport, let alone emissions in general.
A fragment of the interview with this statement was posted on the CPK Twitter profile. In the text entry however, it was written that the deputy minister was to add that “CPK is to serve the most distant travellers”, although such words were not mentioned in the interview.
Under the entry, which quoted, inter alia, sentence that “short-haul flights are the most emissive”, Internet users wrote that the deputy minister was wrong. “What nonsense. Please count the planned number of passengers by the number of seats in the plane. A full plane every 90-120 seconds. 24/7/365 is it ecology?”; “Airplane is the mode of transport that is the most polluting form of travel. Please don’t forget that before the plane takes off it is subjected to ‘SPA’ which also has a very high CO2 footprint”; “I draw attention to the planned number of passenger + cargo planes. What kind of ecology are we talking about? P. Horała is lying about reality. The railway is ecological, but it is also CO2, especially with empty trains” – the comments read (original spelling of posts).
We checked what the data on air transport emissions show and what experts say about these emissions.
Aircraft: several percent of all transport emissions
First, we analyzed data on aviation emissions from transport alone. Marcin Horała said that there are “several percent” of them.
Global data is published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); EU data – European Environment Agency (EEA) established by the European Union. The latest statistics come from 2018 and 2019, which is not a problem in the case of aviation, because since 2020 it has been experiencing perturbations caused by restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and only recently has it returned to the pre-2020 level. The IEA gives data on carbon emissions alone, while the EEA takes all of them into account greenhouse gasesin addition to carbon dioxide, mainly methane, dinitrogen oxide and hydrofluorocarbons.
And so: according to the IEA, aviation in 2018 was responsible for 11.6 percent global carbon dioxide emissions from transport. As much as 81 percent comes from passenger aviation, the remaining 19 percent. causes cargo aviation.
On the EU scale, the EEA reported that in 2019 aviation was responsible for 13.4 percent greenhouse gas emissions in transport. Road transport is the most polluting: it accounts for 74.5% of all emissions. global CO2 emissions and 71.7 percent. greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union.
Deputy Minister Horała is therefore wrong to claim that aviation is responsible for “a few percent of all transport emissions”.
from 2 percent globally to almost 4 percent. in the European Union
However, transport alone generates 24 percent. (IEA data) to 28.5 percent. (EEA data) of all greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the share of aviation in total emissions is smaller than in transport emissions alone.
Globally, this percentage varies from year to year. According to report IEA from September 2022 “aviation in 2021 was responsible for above 2 percent global energy-related CO2 emissions, growing faster than road, rail or sea transport in recent decades. article of September 2022 on the impact of aviation on the climate reported: “The share of aviation in CO2 emissions is roughly between 2 and 3 percent total annual anthropogenic emissions of this greenhouse gas. The exact figure depends on the year and how aviation emissions are estimated.”
EEA givesthat in 2019 in the European Union alone, aviation was responsible for 3.8 percent total greenhouse gas emissions (3.4% international transport and 0.4% domestic transport).
These calculations are confirmed in an interview with Konkret24 by Dr. Jakub Jędrak, a physicist from the Polish Smog Alarm. – When it comes to carbon dioxide, aviation is responsible for approx 2.5 percent global emissions – he says, but he points out:
But apparently, it’s quite a lot. If you convert that into total emissions [dwutlenku węgla wyrażone w tonach]which is more than the German economy emits, or almost as much as the Japanese economy emits.
According to the IEA, all aviation in 2018 emitted 1.02 billion tons of carbon dioxide, while according to the calculations of the Global Carbon Project in the same year Germany emitted 754 million tons of carbon dioxideand Japan 1.14 billion tone.
The physicist emphasizes that although it is indeed 2-3 percent in total emissions, flying may already have a dominant share in the carbon footprint generated by individual people. – For example, if we have a person who does not have a car, or even does, but does not drive it much and instead flies a lot, air travel dominates their carbon footprint. So you have to look at it also from this perspective – says Dr. Jędrak.
“It contributes more to global warming than is commonly believed”
Jakub Jędrak primarily points out that, apart from CO2 emissions, there is also the issue of emissions of other substances affecting the climate and the impact of aviation on clouds. “These effects may be short-lived, but they can affect the atmosphere more strongly than the carbon dioxide emitted by airplanes. An example is the contrails left by airplanes that are warming the planet, and whose impact, although short-lived, is stronger than CO2. In total, the impact of air transport on the planet’s warming is much stronger than just carbon dioxide emissions – he emphasizes.
These are the conclusions of scientists who have studied the impact of aviation on the climate in the past. IN elaboration “Determining aviation’s contribution to global warming” from 2021, a group of researchers led by Dr. Milan Klöwer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded:
The development of aviation contributes to global warming to a greater extent than is commonly believed due to the mix of climate pollutants it generates. Aviation contributed about 4 percent. global warming observed so far, despite being responsible for only 2.4% of global warming. global annual carbon emissions.
Emissions from air transport and its prevalence
– Let’s also note that aviation is only a fragment of all transport and that only a small part of the Earth’s population, about 10 percent, flies. In Poland, this fraction may be quite similar, equally small. And of those who fly, only a small part of the summer a lot – says Dr. Jakub Jędrak.
The problem with flying in the context of its impact on the climate was also emphasized by W conversation with the Naukaoklimacie.pl portal, Dr. Michał Czepkiewicz, a geographer from the University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznań. “[Transport lotniczy] it is a mode of movement that is used by relatively few and is characterized by huge inequalities. In 2018, before the pandemic, only about 4 percent of people in the world flew abroad, and about 11 percent within national borders. Also in Poland, flying is not common” – he said. “Moreover, it is estimated that the 1% of the most frequent travelers in the world generate 50% of emissions from this sector. They are largely scheduled airliners, not private jets. Billionaires like Bill Gates are therefore a fraction of a per mille. This one percent includes, for example, almost all residents of Iceland and other Nordic countries, who on average fly two or three times a year” – he added.
We asked Dr. Jędrak about Deputy Minister Horała’s statement that “short-haul flights are the most emissive”. – On a per-kilometre basis, they are indeed the most emissive, as airplanes emit more greenhouse gases during take-off and climb than when flying at high altitude. So the emission intensity will be higher on the shorter flight, but at the same time the total emission will be lower. Because in general, the farther we fly, the more fuel we will use, of course – the expert replies. – However, short-haul flights are so shocking from the point of view of climate protection that they can often be replaced by train. For example, if someone flies from Krakow to Warsaw, the flight takes less than an hour, but he still has to get to and from the airport, so the train is similar. Unfortunately, these flights sometimes have an economic advantage: they are simply cheaper, he adds.
“The upward trend is worrying”
Both Jakub Jędrak and Michał Czepkiewicz emphasize that in the case of aviation, its development must be taken into account, which will increase its share in overall greenhouse gas emissions. “It is expected that if nothing changes in the growth dynamics, in 15-20 years aviation will become the main source of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Therefore, air travel, especially intercontinental travel, is the biggest problem in long-haul transport” – said Dr. Czepkiewicz .
The data published by the OECD on the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by aviation, even for Poland alone, show that in 2022 emissions not only returned to pre-pandemic levels, but even exceeded them in the holiday months.
– This upward trend is worrying, because air traffic is constantly growing, so also emissions from aviation. And it’s hard to do anything about it. It is very difficult to decarbonize aviation – says Dr. Jędrak. – Aviation fuels are the most efficient in terms of energy density per unit mass and realistically, it is difficult to replace aviation kerosene with anything else. Electric or hydrogen planes will not replace the current ones soon. There is also no hope of massive use of sustainable hydrocarbon fuels, such as biofuels. Therefore, there is a fear that the share of this transport sector in overall emissions will increase. Among other things, in relation to other sectors that are easier to decarbonise. The government responsible for the climate would not enter into the construction of airports on such a scale, but would encourage citizens to travel by other means of transport – concludes the physicist.
Main photo source: Marcin Gadomski/PAP