Air transport is an essential connector of the modern world, bringing together people and business. Over four billion passengers a year, over a third of world trade by value and more than half of all international tourists travel by air. We support 65.5 million jobs and 3.6% of global GDP. But we also produce around 2% of the world’s human-induced CO2 emissions.

As air traffic grows, particularly to power the emerging economies of the world, how do we balance that growth with the obligation all sectors face to control their climate impacts?

Here is what aviation is doing…

In 2008, the aviation industry presented the world’s first global transport sector climate action framework. We have been working to achieve these objectives in the intervening years and this publication will look at the ways we have been doing so. The framework is based on a set of three global goals, underpinned by four pillars of climate action.


Framework Graphic2


ICON Technology PageTechnology innovation. Each new generation of aircraft is roughly 15% to 20% more fuel efficient than the previous generation, and over the next decade airlines will invest $1.3 trillion in new planes. Sustainable alternative aviation fuels, already being used on a small scale in commercial flight, will have the potential to cut emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel.

ICON Operations PageOperational improvements. We’re making the current fleet lighter and more efficient and using new air traffic control techniques to save emissions. For example, landing using a continuous descent into an airport saves at least 150 kg of CO2 per flight. Adding wingtip devices to an aircraft can reduce fuel use by 4%

ICON Infrastructure PageInfrastructure efficiencies. Shortening flying times by a minute saves at least 100kg of CO2 per flight. Reformed air traffic management systems in the United States and Europe will significantly cut emissions.

ICON Mbms PageSmart economic measures. Economic measures are a part of our strategy until technology and more efficient operations achieve our targets. We are working with Governments to design a global market-based measure that accounts for emissions only once and ensures that passengers do not face multiple layers of taxation.

This is a joint effort, with collaborative action taking place across the aviation sector. Airports, airlines, air traffic management organisations, the manufacturers of aircraft and engines and partners across the supply chain are working together on action that will reduce aviation CO2 emissions. Many of them are outlined in Aviation Climate Solutions, but this page provides an overview of the results of that action.

Aviation’s emissions profile

Air transport generated 859 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017. This is around 2% of the 40 billion tonnes of CO2 generated by human activities every year. Around 80% of aviation CO2 is emitted from flights over 1,500 kilometres in length. 

Historically, international transport emissions from aviation and shipping have not been included in the international climate regime administered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as these emissions fall outside of the scope of nationally-determined climate action. Instead, these emissions have been dealt with by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and shipping’s equivalent, the International Maritime Organisation.

Efficient already… but more efficiency is on the way

Our focus on efficiency has seen a halving of fuel use per tonne kilometre travelled since 1990. In other words, your flight today will generate around 50% the CO2 per kilometre compared to the same flight back in 1990. This progress has not just been through technological advances – the operational and infrastructure measures that make up our framework also play an important role. The publication Aviation Climate Solutions outlines how this has been carried out, through projects both large and small.

Serving the world

Fuel and CO2 efficiency on an individual flight basis have been making impressive progress. But overall emissions from aviation have continued to rise, as traffic (both passenger and cargo) has grown. Most growth has been taking place in emerging economies, as they recognise the benefits of the connectivity that air travel provides. Trade and tourism are important drivers of economic development around the world and as middle-classes continue to grow, their appetite to see the world also needs to be catered for.

The industry’s climate action framework is designed to help balance the two goals – economic growth through connectivity and reducing climate impacts in the long run. Partners within and outside the air transport sector will need to work together to achieve the aims, but the outcome will be worth the effort.


(1) From 2009 until 2020: average 1.5% efficiency improvement per year

The industry is using a four-pillar strategy to further increase its fuel efficiency by a further 17% over the first decade. One of the most important parts of that strategy is the introduction of new technology – the biggest impact of which comes through replacement of older aircraft in the fleet with newer, more efficient ones. This is not cheap. To keep to the 1.5% fleet efficiency improvement target, the world’s airlines will need to purchase around 12,000 new aircraft by 2020 at an estimated cost of $1.3 trillion.

(2) From 2020: Capping emissions growth from aviation

The aviation sector has agreed to cap its net emissions at the 2020 level. From this point on, any emissions the aviation industry is unable to reduce through operational, technological or infrastructure measures, or by using sustainable alternative fuels, will need to be offset by market based measures.

(3) By 2050: halving net emissions based on 2005 levels

After 2020, the industry will start seeing some of the larger emission reduction possibilities of advanced technologies and sustainable aviation fuels. These two major factors, as well as continuing work on infrastructure and operations efficiency, will allow the industry to aim for the most ambitious goal: to ensure that net carbon emissions from aviation in 2050 will be half of what they were in 2005, or 320 million tonnes of carbon, despite the growth in passenger numbers and cargo.