Study of scenarios: aviation is - currently - unlikely to support Paris goals

News - 07 September 2021

We all know that emissions from aviation are increasing. The Paris climate agreement does not actually specify climate goals for aviation, but targets for reducing the climate impact from aviation do exist in other policies, regulations and research. Is the pace of innovation and policies high enough, however, for aviation to support the Paris agreement goals? And: what could be the long-term effect of the current Covid-19 crisis on the climate impact from aviation?

A team of researchers from TU Delft and other European institutions, led by Prof. Volker Grewe, DLR and TU Delft Professor of Climate Effects of Aviation, ran the scenarios to answer these and other questions in their paper ‘Evaluating the climate impact of aviation emission scenarios towards the Paris agreement including COVID-19 effects’, published in Nature Communications in June.   

Their main conclusions are sobering:

  • The emission targets specified in policy on sustainable aviation, such as in the ACARE Flightpath 2050, are likely to stabilise the climate impact of aviation and by that support the goals of the Paris Agreement assuming that the contribution of aviation to global warming is capped at 5%.
  • The CORSIA offsetting programme in its current form – that is, without taking non-carbon-dioxide effects into account – will fall short of climate targets aimed at the 1.5-degrees Celsius limit between 2025 and 2064, with a probability of 90 percent.
  • It is also likely that the slow technological innovation and a lack of availability of sustainable aviation fuels will prevent the sector from supporting Paris.

The research was carried out in collaboration with several European scientists within the framework of the ECATS association. Apart from Prof. Volker Grewe, Dr. Arvind Gangoli Rao and Ir. Joris Melkert from the Flight Performance & Propulsion section participated in this research.

Paper abstract:

“Aviation is an important contributor to the global economy, satisfying society’s mobility needs. It contributes to climate change through CO2 and non-CO2 effects, including contrail-cirrus and ozone formation. There is currently significant interest in policies, regulations and research aiming to reduce aviation’s climate impact. Here we model the effect of these measures on global warming and perform a bottom-up analysis of potential technical improvements, challenging the assumptions of the targets for the sector with a number of scenarios up to 2100. We show that although the emissions targets for aviation are in line with the overall goals of the Paris Agreement, there is a high likelihood that the climate impact of aviation will not meet these goals. Our assessment includes feasible technological advancements and the availability of sustainable aviation fuels. This conclusion is robust for several COVID-19 recovery scenarios, including changes in travel behaviour.”

Read the paper:  Evaluating the climate impact of aviation emission scenarios towards the Paris agreement including COVID-19 effects | Nature Communications

Authors: Volker Grewe, Arvind Gangoli Rao, Tomas Grönstedt, Carlos Xisto, Florian Linke, Joris Melkert, Jan Middel, Barbara Ohlenforst, Simon Blakey, Simon Christie, Sigrun atthes and Katrin Dahlmann.  

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