We began modelling and reporting CO2 emissions from air transport long before the recent focus on ESG and sustainability - 2008 to be precise. At that time, aviation was being drawn into the European Emissions Trading Scheme and there was a good deal of uncertainty over what the compliance cost would amount to for air carriers. So, we used our expertise in calculating fuel burn to develop a class-leading CO2 emissions methodology and began modelling emissions. When the EU published the first set of emissions for air transport within the ETS, our bottom-up approach had forecast the outcome to within 1.5% of the verified total. For those who would like a trip down memory lane, or just to see how branding and presentation has evolved since the late 2000s, here is a link to the first of our emissions reports.
Fast forward to the early 2020s and we’re still calculating emissions. In some respects, much has changed within the industry and there is now a genuine focus on sustainability, but for much of the 2010s there was plenty of talk and little action. Two major aircraft innovations in long and short haul are now becoming familiar - the 787 and A350 widebodies, and 737MAX and A320NEO narrow bodies are replacing some of the older types and consequently airline efficiency, measured by fuel-burn per passenger KM, has improved. The IATA goal of 1.5% fuel efficiency gain from 2009-2020 would’ve been achieved until the effects of the pandemic in 2020, which caused airlines to operate at lower occupancy rates and therefore increased emissions-per-passenger.
However, whilst efficiency improved, total emissions also grew at a steady pace. In fact, between 2009 and 2019, emissions from civil aviation grew from about 630m to 915m tonnes (a CAGR of 3.8%). The pandemic reduced overall emissions by around 50% and, again, we forecast the 2020 outturn before anyone else - and were accurate in our projections.
So, we’re at an interesting point for air transport emissions. 2021 will see substantial growth in CO2 versus last year; and in some markets will be back to 2019 levels by year-end. The drive for sustainability is picking up pace - the ICAO Carbon Offset Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is in its pilot phase - and a number of the world’s leading airlines have announced decarbonisation measures from offsetting emissions to sustainable alternative fuel (SAF) partnerships. The situation at present is that SAF is neither cheap enough or plentiful enough to become even a minor part of the emissions reduction pathway at present. Alternative power sources, from electric to hydrogen, are in the very early stages of feasibility and the major OEMs have yet to commit to the next generation of aircraft. It remains the case that for most airlines, offsetting is the only option for the next few years, which means in absolute terms it’s likely CO2 emissions will continue to rise.
Focus market excerpt from RDC's newly relaunched Emissions Report - this month: The United States
We thought it was about time to re-launch our emissions report. Interest has never been higher, the need to manage emissions has never been greater, and we’re in a unique position of being able to cast light on how things are going. We’ve also developed a cool new route and network level efficiency rating called the CARE Index, which allows consumers and operators to compare the efficiency of one operator / aircraft combination against another, to make a more informed purchasing decision. We’ll share some highlights from the CARE Index each month, but in the meantime, hats off to Novair, Play and French Bee for ranking #1, 2 and 3 globally for operations in September 2021. Keep it up.
To download our new emissions reports, click here.
We'll be publishing monthly updates, but to be kept informed when new reports are available, follow us on LinkedIn where we'll post monthly snapshots when the report is released.