Roadmap Towards Climate Neutral Aviation

The Roadmap „Towards Climate-Neutral Avi­a­tion“ by Ralf Fücks (Zentrum Libe­rale Moderne), Mat­thias von Randow (Chief Exe­cu­tive of the BDL) and Volker Thum (Chief Exe­cu­tive of the BDLI) sum­ma­ri­zes the results of a series of dis­cus­sions with members of the Bun­des­tag, the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of federal and state min­is­ter­ies, the avia­tion indus­try and inde­pen­dent experts. The key finding is that making air travel com­pa­ti­ble with climate pro­tec­tion is a rea­listic goal. However, a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to climate-neutral air travel can only be achie­ved if science, indus­try, air­lines, air­ports, and polit­i­cal actors join their efforts. An appro­priate regu­la­tory frame­work for avia­tion and a major effort to develop tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions to market matu­rity are needed now. 



Air travel is the trans­port infra­struc­ture of our glob­al­ized world – a phys­i­cal world wide web. It enables per­sonal encoun­ters across national borders. It makes pol­i­tics, busi­ness, science, culture, and sports more inter­na­tional. It is also the means of trans­port of global tourism. Migrants visit their fam­i­lies, stu­dents use oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­na­tional exchange, and non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions also network glob­ally. Video con­fer­ences and video chats can only ever be partial sub­sti­tutes for face-to-face encounters.

Until the COVID-19 pan­demic caused a dra­matic drop in pas­sen­ger numbers, plung­ing the avi­a­tion indus­try into dire crisis, the evo­lu­tion of pas­sen­ger numbers knew only one direc­tion: upwards. Between 2013 and 2018, avi­a­tion volumes in the Euro­pean Union increased by 26 percent. In 2019, about 4.5 billion pas­sen­gers trav­elled by air world­wide, a figure that was pro­jected to double to about 9 billion by 2040.

The COVID-19 crisis caused an unprece­dented col­lapse of air traffic. A large portion of Euro­pean air­lines are cur­rently in the red. The industry’s finan­cial strength is waning. Demand for new, more envi­ron­men­tally friendly air­craft has plum­meted dras­ti­cally, which height­ens the urgent need to promote climate-friendly inno­va­tions in air trans­port within the frame­work of the “Euro­pean Green Deal” and other gov­ern­ment programs.

It is vir­tu­ally impos­si­ble to predict with any degree of reli­a­bil­ity how quickly avi­a­tion will recover from the COVID-19 crisis and how it will evolve in the future. From a global per­spec­tive, however, demand for air trans­port will grow again. With rising incomes in devel­op­ing coun­tries and their inte­gra­tion into the global economy, private and com­mer­cial air travel will increase in the long term. A growing global middle class also means a growing number of poten­tial air passengers.

This is why it is so impor­tant to make air travel climate-neutral. Today, air traffic is causing about three percent of global CO2 emis­sions. Its actual con­tri­bu­tion to the green­house effect, however, is greater due to addi­tional climate effects (nitro­gen oxides, water vapor, etc.). The IPCC puts the con­tri­bu­tion of avi­a­tion to total green­house gas effects at up to five percent. Given the global trend, rad­i­cally restrict­ing air traffic is not a real­is­tic option. It might be dis­cussed in a country like Germany. It is not even up for debate in China, India, the US, and aspir­ing devel­op­ing countries.

At the same time, however, avi­a­tion – like all other eco­nomic sectors – has com­mit­ted itself to the goal of climate neu­tral­ity. This move towards climate-neutral air travel offers great oppor­tu­ni­ties for Germany and Europe to become pio­neers of a future indus­try, from air­craft con­struc­tion and propul­sion tech­nol­ogy to the pro­duc­tion of climate-neutral fuels at an indus­trial scale.

Avenues Towards Climate-Neutral Air Traffic

In this context, the Zentrum Lib­erale Moderne, the German Air Trans­port Asso­ci­a­tion (BDL) and the German Aero­space Indus­tries Asso­ci­a­tion (BDLI) held a series of talks with members of the German Bun­destag, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of federal and state min­istries, and sci­en­tific experts through­out 2020. Our focus was on avenues towards climate-neutral air travel and the polit­i­cal course we need to set to attain this target. The fol­low­ing is a summary of our key take­aways from this series of talks, our “Roadmap Towards Sus­tain­able Air Travel”.

Our key finding is that making air travel com­pat­i­ble with climate pro­tec­tion is a real­is­tic goal. There is a broad con­sen­sus between the avi­a­tion indus­try, science, and pol­i­tics on the poten­tial for climate-neutral air travel. The ques­tion is no longer “whether”, but “how”, i. e. with which con­crete mea­sures and instru­ments, we can rec­on­cile climate policy goals with a func­tion­ing inter­na­tional avi­a­tion system.

You can down­load a PDF-version of the Roadmap Towards Climate-Neutral Air Travel here.


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