Commercial Aviation Emissions Could Halve Due to COVID19

Commercial aviation emissions in Australia could drop by over half in 2020 as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, according to new research from the Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program.

The global effort to rein in the impact of COVID19 has seen an unprecedented and indefinite grounding of commercial aviation fleets in countries across the world.

Key Findings:

  • COVID19 related cuts to commercial air traffic has already resulted in approximately a 10.3 Mt reduction in global CO2 emissions over February and March 2020.
  • International Air Transport Association (IATA) now projects a 38% cut to air travel in 2020 which equates to a 352.7 Mt fall in global civil aviation emissions compared to 2019, and a 8.8 Mt CO2 fall in Australian aviation emissions compared to 2019 (37% decrease).
  • Emissions from Australian commercial aviation could decrease by up to 13.2Mt CO2 in 2020 (56% decrease from 2019) under an extreme scenario of continual grounding of most Qantas and Virgin planes for 9 months.
  • Business travel may not rebound to 2019 levels, given the systemic shift to online conferencing and communication and weakened corporate budgets post-COVID19.
  • Under the UN deal on international aviation emissions, major airlines have committed to carbon neutrality using 2020 as the baseline year, which could end up as a record low year for emissions.

“The economic impact of COVID19 on the aviation industry has been no-doubt devastating. Even the three impact scenarios presented in the last month by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) now appear to be optimistic,” said Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director at The Australia Institute.

“Australia Institute analysis shows global emissions from aviation in February and the first half of March 2020 are already lower than this time last year. If the cuts to flights announced by Qantas and Virgin continue into Spring, it would more than halve annual aviation emissions in Australia.

“The question remains as to whether Covid-19 pandemic will permanently change our flying habits, given epidemics like Avian flu, MERS and SARS saw the volume of air travel recover within a few short months.

“With the travel and quarantine restrictions in place, there has been an increased demand for alternative solutions — services like teleconferencing system Zoom recorded more active users in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019.

“If we can work well together online now, perhaps it will permanently reduce the need for business travel and so emissions over the long term.

“Given the global nature of the aviation industry, it has its own UN deal outside of the Paris Agreement, to go carbon neutral using 2020 as the baseline year. Governments and airlines have an opportunity to work together to ensure that commitment is maintained throughout the COVID-19 response and recovery.”

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