Commercial aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and yet a critical component of the global economic infrastructure. A recent report, co-authored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, forecasts global carbon dioxide emissions due to commercial aviation of 1.5 billion tons per year by 2025, considerably worse than previous predictions of the International Panel on Climate Change. Despite the considerable greenhouse gas contribution, the industry is economically driven by fuel efficiency. With approximately 40% of annual operating costs coming from fuel, airlines constantly push for more efficient aircraft and engines. A projected 1.4 to 3 times growth in the number of flights by 2025 signals that fundamental technological change is needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions in a significant way without severe economic restrictions. The only path to long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is to power commercial aircraft with a greenhouse-free fuel.

Emissions from a Boeing 737


                                   Australians love to travel. About 9 million Australians travelled overseas last year, 60% of them on holiday. For most tourists, sustainable development and climate change were probably not high on their list of concerns. But increasing numbers of travellers are concerned about these issues. On the other hand, tourism is incredibly important for local development. Indeed, it offers the only sustainable means of economic development for many developing countries. The UN World Tourism Organization says that tourism will be important in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, which include ensuring environmental sustainability and eliminating extreme poverty.

Map showing Aviation Traffic

                                     Carbon-offset schemes and the standards by which they are accredited certainly need monitoring and regulation. Ultimately this will need to be done within the framework of a global climate treaty. For the individual tourist, offsetting is increasingly easy and cheap. According to the Qantas calculator, offsetting a round-trip from Melbourne to Los Angeles only costs about A$25 at present. Flights within Australia can be offset for as little as the price of a cup of coffee. Rental car firm Europcar, for instance, offers offsets purchased though carbon forestry company Greenfleet. Unfortunately, according to Qantas, only 5% of air travellers currently choose to offset. Sadly, this is an area where consumer choice may not be best and responsible governments as well as corporations need to take the lead. Eco-tours, for example, often bundle carbon offsets into their price. It can only be hoped that airlines will follow suit. Ultimately, however, what’s required is a clear global framework for reducing emissions, in which offsets can play a part. We need, in other words, an international climate agreement. The devil, as always, will be in the details.


Colonno, Michael and Juan J. Alonso. “Sustainable Air Travel For A Carbon-Free Future – Stanford Energy Club”. N.p., 2016. Web. 9th March, 2016.
Saletta, Morgan. “Can You Be A Sustainable Tourist Without Giving Up Flying?”. The Conversation. N.p., 2014. Web. 9th March, 2016.

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