How to shrink greenhouse gas emissions from your next flight

A more fuel-efficient itinerary cuts pollution

One way jet-setters can cut climate pollution from aviation is by choosing more fuel-efficient itineraries – if they can figure out which flights pollute the least. A passenger on a more fuel-efficient itinerary can generate 63 percent atleast carbon dioxide pollution, on average, compared to a passenger traveling to and from the same place on a less efficient itinerary, a new report found it.

There’s even more good news for consumers concerned about climate change: Cheaper flights tend to be more fuel-efficient and thus cause less pollution. The report found that itineraries in the cheapest 25 percent of airfares actually cut passenger emissions by about 55 percent compared to the most polluting itineraries. It is possible that airlines are passing on savings from the fuel efficiency of new or more densely packed aircraft to their customers, the report said. Its findings are based on an analysis of estimated emissions from 20 popular domestic routes in the US in 2019.

Source: Variation in Aviation Emissions by Itinerary: The Case for Emissions Disclosure
international council on clean transport

But for passengers to make informed decisions, airlines must report how much pollution each of their flights cause, and this information is not yet widely available. There’s a push from advocates to mandate that disclosure—in some places policies like the one that require restaurants to tell customers how many calories are in each of their dishes. The researchers estimated how much fuel was likely to be burned for each itinerary. ledge Spoke with Xini Sola Zheng, one of the authors of the new report by the non-profit International Council on Clean Transportation. Zheng shares some tips for finding the most efficient flight path and other strategies for clearing skies.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

More people are starting to fly again as pandemic restrictions loosen. What can they learn from your study about emissions from their flights?

If you’re looking for low-emission flights without knowing the exact emissions that this study is ultimately advocating, you can follow some of the more general rules like flying straight and flying on a new plane. Typically, when you have a layover, your routing is less efficient. Depending on where this stop is, you may be doing a little detour or a big detour.

Nowadays when you book a flight you can usually see the type of aircraft that a specific flight uses. The newest will be like the A320neo and Boeing’s 787. That latest generation aircraft are, in most cases, more efficient and less emitting than other options.

But as we discuss in the paper, this is not always the case. So ideally, we still want the actual emissions data. Before that happens, consumers can try to rely on more generalized rules. And if they’re more flexible with their destination or if they’re going somewhere that’s not too far, perhaps consider traveling using rail or car.

pay to offset emissions Flights now appears to be popular with consumers and airlines. How does choosing a flight more efficient than buying offset?

There is almost no aviation sector offset available. So whenever you’re paying for offsets for flights, you’re paying for emissions reductions that happen in other areas. Yes, they help reduce emissions in the grand scheme of things, but that’s not asking the aviation industry to claim its pollution. They are eventually outsourcing their problems to other industries if everyone just continues to fly and fly often.

The quality of the offset and then the price of the offset are all different. Currently, offset prices do not really represent the true social cost of carbon emissions. some projects, they can’t really reduce emissions. It is widely known in the environmental community that Offsets are very important in terms of their quality. For consumers, it’s important to think about, like, if you’re already trying to reduce your carbon footprint – try to do it right. We should try to push for decarbonization within aviation.

Trying to choose a low-emitting itinerary, even if it costs a bit more, I think is a slightly more realistic and more solid option if you’re trying to make an impact. And as the study already shows, in general, you can find low-emitting options without overpaying or paying too much.

Much attention has been paid to “flight shame”, in which individuals are blamed for greenhouse gas emissions from their flights. But what about the airlines themselves? What is their responsibility when it comes to their emissions?

So I think we are seeing airlines and aircraft manufacturers increasingly recognizing public pressure. So we’re seeing a lot of announcements for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions targets and investments in alternative fuels. These are trends, but I think what is more important is the actual action that they take under these commitments. It is important for them to invest in technologies that are still in their infancy.

But at the same time, there is a lot of potential around fuel efficiency. Ideally, all airlines should think about their fleet renewal plans and try to retire older aircraft a little earlier and buy some new aircraft to refresh their fleet. As an aircraft gets older, its fuel efficiency also decreases. During COVID, especially last year due to slowdown in traffic, a lot of airlines already got opportunity to restructure their fleet. Due to low demand, he retired many aircraft earlier. This is a good thing from an environmental point of view.

And if airlines start disclosing emissions for their flights, what could be the impact?

We hope that people will be more aware of their carbon emissions associated with flying. Ultimately, we’re hoping that consumers are voting with their dollars for low-emissions flights and technologies. The choice of one person is not going to affect the whole operation, but the choice of many people will be a huge incentive for the airlines. It comes down to consumer preferences as an incentive or a dominant force for the market to signal to airlines that there is demand for lower-emission alternatives.

I think airlines have more or less heard about the idea of ​​emissions disclosure. Everyone is waiting to see if this is going to become a rule or if everyone is going to do it at some point. This study serves as a primer to show what kind of information consumers will get if emissions disclosures become a real thing.

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