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Facts about aviation and the environment

The debate about our impact on climate change continued over the past quarter. There is no doubt that aviation needs to adapt to climate change and become more sustainable. We have gathered a few facts here about aviation and the environment.

White flowers in nature

How big is aviation’s impact on climate change?

Before the pandemic, aviation around the world accounted for about 2–3 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions (source: IPCC). The industry is working to further reduce this percentage by using a blend of fossil-free fuels on a large scale, new more energy-efficient aircraft, a higher load factor, more efficient flight paths and electrification of short-haul flights.

What is aviation’s greatest impact on the climate?

Fossil carbon dioxide emissions and water vapour emissions at high altitude. In aviation, like in other parts of society, it is not just carbon dioxide emissions that can affect the climate. At high altitude nitrogen oxides and water vapour, above all, have an impact on the climate.

Can today’s aircraft fly using biofuel without the need to make any changes to the plane?

Yes, biofuel – also called sustainable aviation fuel – already works with today’s aircraft engines – no further technological innovation is required. Swedish airlines already fly using a biofuel blend in their tank on some routes. The products are identical, no matter whether they come from fossil materials or biomass. The aviation industry has agreed on a number of specifications that all biofuels must meet. It means that future aviation fuels, no matter what material is used, will have the same chemical composition and thus can be blended with traditional jet fuel in varying quantities. It means that the same aircraft engines can be used as now and that the biofuel can be handled at airports using the existing fuelling technical infrastructure. At present, a blend of 50 per cent (based on the ASTM standard) is allowed, but the goal is to use 100 per cent biofuel within a few years.

Airplane up in the air with blue sky and clouds

What are high altitude effects?

There is an additional impact on the climate from some emissions in aviation produced at high altitude. Nitrogen oxide emissions and water vapour emissions have an impact on the climate at high altitude. There is still great scientific uncertainty about what impact this has on the climate. High altitude effects are extremely limited in domestic air transport. That is because, to create condensation trails (contrails) and cirrus clouds, a flight altitude of at least 8,000 metres is required, the temperature must be low and there must be a certain level of humidity, among other factors.

Why is biofuel important?

Biofuel – sustainable aviation fuel – is an essential condition needed for aviation to meet increased demand and at the same time achieve the industry’s long-term climate goals. Since biofuel is made from renewable materials, no fossil carbon dioxide emissions are produced by combustion in the aircraft’s engines. The goal is for Swedish domestic aviation to be fossil-free by 2030 and for Swedish international aviation to be fossil-free by 2045.

What is biofuel made of?

The requirement is for biofuel to be made from materials that do not compete with food production and that are not harmful to the environment. Examples of materials could be algae, forest waste, household waste, slaughterhouse waste etc. depending on where the fuel is produced.