Study reveals the airline industry should offset 220 million tonnes of CO2 in 2023

Even with improvements in aircraft technology, airline efficiencies and operational improvements, together with the introduction of biofuels, there will be a sizeable carbon gap between commercial aviation forecasts and industry targets by 2023, according to a study by consultancy ICF International. Without these improvements and biofuel take-up, ICF estimates commercial aviation will produce 53% more carbon in 2023 than today, leading to a 33% gap with the industry’s goal of capping net emissions from 2020. The consultancy’s own forecast is for global CO2 emissions from aviation to reach 942 million tonnes by 2020 and so form the baseline for the industry’s carbon-neutral growth target. With efficiencies and biofuels, the annual carbon gap would be in the region of 220 million tonnes by 2023, which ICF says will have to be mitigated through carbon offsetting.

ICF, which has considerable expertise in airline industry planning and forecasting, estimates global carbon emissions from aviation in 2013 at around 750 million tonnes, a higher assessment than that from the industry itself, which puts the figure at 705 million tonnes. To arrive at the 942 million tonnes by 2020, ICF factored in the industry’s goal of improving annual efficiency by 1.5% through to 2020 against a forecasted increase in global flight hours.

To close that gap, ICF studied a range of technology improvements and efficiencies that airlines and aircraft manufacturers can introduce over the 10-year period that could cut annual carbon output by 8% in 2023. This would reduce ICF’s baseline estimate of 1,253 million tonnes of CO2 to 1,195 tonnes in 2023.

ICF notes industry groups and individual airlines have built up hopes that biofuels will be a solution to aviation emissions but its study is less optimistic about the prospect.

However, ICF estimates that biofuels could contribute to a further reduction of 33 million tonnes of CO2 in 2023, bringing the carbon gap down to 220 tonnes.

The consultancy – which says it has provided guidance on aviation emissions to ICAO, analysis for the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme and is currently helping China design its future carbon trading programme – believes carbon offsetting to be the most cost-effective way to close that gap.