Climate Change

Overview of Aviation Sector

  • The number of flights increased by 8% between 2014 and 2017, and grows by 42% from 2017 to 2040 in the most-likely forecast.
  • Technological improvements, fleet renewal and increased operational efficiency have been able to partially counterbalance the impact of recent growth, but there has still been an increase in overall emissions since 2014.
  • In 2016, aviation was accountable for 3.6% of the total EU28 greenhouse gas emissions and for 13.4% of the emissions from transport.
  • The environmental efficiency of aviation continues to improve and, by 2040, further improvements are expected in average fuel burn per passenger kilometre flown (-12%).
  • By 2040, CO2 and NOX emissions are predicted to increase by at least 21% and 16% respectively.

Technology and Design

  • Recent certification data demonstrates that advanced technologies continue to be integrated into new designs.
  • New aeroplane CO2 and engine PM standards will become applicable on 1 January 2020.
  • New technologies (e.g. supersonic and urban mobility aircraft) need to be carefully integrated into the aviation system to avoid undermining progress in mitigating environmental impacts.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels

  • The use of sustainable aviation fuel is currently minimal and is likely to remain limited in the short term.
  • Sustainable aviation fuels have the potential to make an important contribution to mitigating the current and expected future environmental impacts of aviation.
  • There is interest in ‘electrofuels’, which potentially constitute zero-emission alternative fuels. However, few demonstrator projects have been brought forward due to high production costs.
  • Six bio-based aviation fuels production pathways have been certified, and several others are in the approval process.
  • The EU has the potential to increase its bio-based aviation fuel production capacity, but the uptake by airlines remains minimal due to various factors, including the cost relative to conventional aviation fuel and low priority in most national bioenergy policies.
  • Recent policy developments and industry initiatives aim to have a positive impact on the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels in Europe.

Air Traffic Management and Operations

  • En route horizontal flight efficiency is on track to meet the SES Performance Scheme 2019 target of no more than 2.60% additional distance flown.
  • Airport arrival flow and taxi-out operational efficiencies have remained fairly stable over the past years.
  • The introduction of Free Route Airspace has saved more than 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 since 2014 (approximately 0.5% of total aviation CO2 emissions).
  • Continuous descent operations have potential for reducing CO2, especially in the European core area.
  • The full potential from operational initiatives is not always achieved due to conflicting air navigation requirements (e.g. safety, environment, economic, capacity).


  • Between 2015 and 2018, the number of European airports participating in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme has increased from 92 to 133, and airports reaching CO2 neutral status rose from 20 to 37.
  • Involvement of stakeholders is crucial to identifying balanced mitigation measures, and can be done through a process such as Collaborative Environmental Management, which has already been implemented at 25 airports.

Market-Based Measures

  • Market-based measures are instruments designed to address the climate impact of aviation, beyond what operational and technological measures or sustainable aviation fuels can achieve.
  • Between 2013 and 2020, an estimated net saving of 193.4 Mt CO2 (twice Belgium’s annual emissions) will be achieved by aviation via the EU ETS through funding of emissions reduction in other sectors.
  • In 2016, an agreement was reached at ICAO to set up the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). As of November 2018, 76 States intend to volunteer to offset their emissions from 2021, representing 76% of the international aviation activity.
  • Emissions trading systems (e.g. ETS) and offsetting schemes (e.g. CORSIA) both address aviation emissions but differ in how they function. ETSs generally work towards economy-wide emission reduction targets, while offsetting schemes also compensate for emissions by reductions in other sectors but without the associated cap.
  • The environmental effectiveness of offsets depends on robust implementation to ensure that the emission reductions delivered would not have occurred in the absence of the scheme.

Aviation Environmental Impacts

  • A high level of scientific understanding of the long-term climate effect from aviation CO2 emissions make it a clear and important target for mitigation efforts.
  • Climate impacts from non-CO2 emissions (e.g. NOX, particles) cannot be ignored as they represent warming effects that are important in the shorter term, but the level of scientific understanding of the magnitude of the effects is medium to very low.
  • More States and organisations are taking action to adapt and build resilience to the impacts that climate change will have on the aviation sector (e.g. higher temperatures, rising sea-levels).