A couple of weeks ago, the normally admired Paris Saint Germain footballer Kylian Mbappé received a strong national and even international slap for laughing out loud when a journalist asked him if he considered taking a train instead of the plane to travel to nearby matches. The anecdote is perhaps the best example of the profound change that is taking place in public opinion regarding the impact of aviation on the environment. A report presented this Wednesday in Brussels confirms that carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft have continued to increase —except in the period of strong restrictions due to the pandemic, which caused a strong anomaly in the sector, as in so many others— and that, if “decisive” action is not taken in the coming years, it will continue to do so at a rate at odds with the decarbonization goals.
According to the third environmental report of European aviation, which is carried out every three years, CO₂ emissions from aircraft that took off from European space increased between 2005 and 2019 by 34%, to 147 million tons. The report, prepared by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and presented this Wednesday at the European Commission, predicts that the trend, if no action is taken, could continue to rise until reaching 188 million tons in 2050, that is, 28% more than in 2019.
“Long-term trends show that the region [europea] it will reach 122.2 million annual flights in 2050, with a potential increase in aviation carbon dioxide emissions of up to 188 million tons, unless environmental protection is generalized in the sector”, experts warn. .
The differences are staggering: if aviation adopts all the measures that the various European environmental plans foresee, from technological adaptation to the use of alternative fuels, emissions from European aircraft would not only not increase by 2050, but could even be reduced by 69 % up to 59 million tons.
“The projected growth in demand requires greater and more decisive action, aligned with the environmental and climate objectives of the European Union”, underline the authors of the report.
It is not that steps have not already been taken. As highlighted by the European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Valean, in recent years the amount of CO₂ emissions per passenger and kilometer has been reduced and noise pollution from aircraft has also been improved. “But this report shows that there is room to go further,” underlines the senior European official, who specifically points out the need to advance in alternative fuels for aviation (SAF, for its acronym in English, produced from raw materials of renewable origin, whether biofuels or synthetics).
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According to the EASA report, currently, the use of this type of fuel is “low”, barely 0.05% of the total fuel used in aviation. Something that is due in part to its lower production and, also, to its higher cost than fossil fuel, although the EASA points out that there are significant savings in this aspect in the not too distant future.
The European Commission has proposed increasing tranches of mandatory blending of SAF fuel with traditional for aircraft, which would start with a modest 2% in 2025, but which it expects to increase strongly in the coming decades, reaching 63% in 2050. regulations, which are still being negotiated, should come into force next year at the latest and European sources have been shown this Wednesday “confident” that the objectives set are “realizable”.
“There is a great consensus at the moment that these fuels will be the largest contributor to the decarbonization of aviation for a long time,” the sources point out.
Although this type of measure may make air travel more expensive, the growing popular conviction that action must be taken – as demonstrated by the anger that Mbappé took, called to order even by the Government of Emmanuel Macron – suggests that this will not be an obstacle. to advance in the decarbonization of the sector. The report recalls that a study carried out at the end of the summer by the European Investment Bank reveals that 81% of Europeans consider climate change and its consequences the “greatest challenge” of this century.
The report also indicates that, in 2019, 3.2 million Europeans were exposed to more than 55 decibels of noise caused by aviation. In addition, 1.3 million people suffered more than 50 daily moments of exposure to air pollution from planes above 70 decibels. The World Health Organization recommends reducing it to below 45 decibels during the day and 40 at night.
“European citizens are increasingly aware of the effect that aviation has on their quality of life in terms of the environment, noise and air quality, and many are willing to act on these concerns,” says the report. This underlines the importance of “increasing collaboration between the public and private sectors to improve existing measures and identify new ones that allow achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal”, which seeks to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
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