Technologies for more climate protection

How greenhouse gas emissions in aviation can be reduced
How greenhouse gas emissions in aviation can be reduced
Source: Oeko-Institut 2020

There will continue to be air traffic that cannot be avoided in future. Various measures can be taken to reduce its climate impact and to avoid it as far as possible. In the long term, there are two main ways of doing this: using alternative fuels such as e-fuels (also known as synthetic fuels) or sustainable biofuels; and alternative drive concepts such as hydrogen and electric aircraft.

Regardless of which path is used, increasing energy efficiency also plays a key role. Not only can it decrease specific CO₂ emissions per flight passenger and relieve the high fuel costs of e-fuels, it can also increase the cruising range of aircraft with alternative drive concepts. For all technological options, the decisive factor will be how quickly they become available. The development of new drive systems and aircraft types and of an infrastructure for the supply of hydrogen and for the production of e-fuels require considerable lead times.

The aviation industry does not expect to achieve net zero emissions in their sector before 2060/2065. That’s far too late for the climate. Hence, the avoidance of flights also plays an important role in decarbonizing the sector.

In the medium term – i.e. between 2021 and 2035 – the new instrument of the International Civil Aviation Organization known as CORSIA is also intended to limit some of the emissions from air transport, mainly by buying offset credits. However, the overall contribution of this international instrument to climate protection is far too small. In the long term, offsetting emissions from aviation can no longer play a role. By 2050, we must have transformed our economic systems in such a way that almost no more emissions arise. Natural or technical sinks that absorb CO₂ will be needed to offset the remaining emissions, e.g. from agriculture or industrial processes that cannot be avoided. These sinks, however, are not expected to be available in sufficient quantities to offset emissions from aviation.

Since the total climate impact of aviation is greater than only the effect of CO₂ emissions, the other climate-damaging effects of aviation must also be taken into account in the design of any aviation measures in the future.

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