Non-CO2 effects of aviation: Time to finally address aviation’s full climate impact

(Transport and Environment, 31 Mar 2022) How can the EU better address the true climate impact of aviation?

When discussing the climate impact of aviation, decarbonisation receives much attention, but CO2 is only the tip of the iceberg. With the ending of Covid restrictions, we’re seeing the sky lined with the white trails of more and more aircraft. These represent non-CO2 effects such as those derived from persistent contrailcirrus and nitrous oxides, and make aviation’s total climate impact two to four times worse than the impact of CO2 alone, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

These effects have been flying under the regulatory radar for a long time, but legislators in Europe are starting to take note and are gearing up for mitigation.

T&E’s Summit on the non-CO2 effects of aviation brought together industry, policymakers and researchers, who proved that, in spite of complexity and uncertainties, we can and should act now to solve this hidden yet enormous issue, to help us unlock savings in our fight against climate change.

Non- CO2 effects: what are they, and why do they matter?

On top of CO2, aircraft engines emit other gases (NOx, SO2 and H2O) and particulate matter (soot). When emitted at high altitudes, these emissions affect atmospheric physical and chemical properties, resulting in an increase in greenhouse gases and the potential formation of persistent contrail cirrus.

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Transport and Environment, 31 Mar 2022: Non-CO2 effects of aviation: Time to finally address aviation’s full climate impact