AIRPLANE EMISSIONS

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we use path-breaking law, organizing and creative media to demand swift and just action from the federal government that reins in climate pollution from the aviation industry. Science, equity and climate justice demand that the United States immediately begin reducing aviation greenhouse gas emissions to achieve a zero-emissions aviation sector by 2050.

Background

Greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector are a substantial contributor to global warming. If the aviation industry were a country, it would place sixth in emissions, between Japan and Germany. Left unchecked global aviation will generate an estimated 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2050, constituting almost 5% of the global emissions allowable to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the United States, aircraft are one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions: Emissions from domestic aviation alone have increased 17% since 1990, to account for 9% of greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Flights departing from airports in the United States and its territories are responsible for almost one-quarter of global passenger transport-related carbon emissions, the majority of which come from domestic flights.

Our Work

Following more than a decade of petitions and successful litigation by the Center and allies over the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure address the effects of aircraft pollution under the Clean Air Act, in 2016 the EPA made a formal finding that greenhouse gas pollution from aircraft endangers human health and welfare. But it has still failed to release any rules to reduce this pollution. That’s why, in 2020, the Center and allies filed a notice of intent to sue the agency over its failure to develop standards to limit greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft.

We’re also campaigning to make sure that the future of aviation is equitable and free from harmful emissions. That future cannot include relying on unproven “carbon offsets” and other false solutions. Time and again offsets have been shown not to reduce emissions. They also concentrate pollution in low-income and communities of color already overburdened with toxic air emissions, and often cause other harm, including displacing Indigenous communities abroad for ill-conceived projects designed to generate offsets.

Equally, the future of aviation cannot include reviving old, super-polluting technologies. Supersonic planes are projected to burn five to seven times more fuel per passenger than comparable conventional aircraft, exceeding even the ineffective international carbon dioxide emissions standards by 40%. We’re working to push the industry forward, not backward, by stopping the corporate campaign to bring back supersonic flights in the United States.

The Center will continue to work and litigate to ensure that when it does make rules, the EPA doesn't settle for the do-nothing emission standards set by international bodies or misguided efforts to revive polluting supersonic technologies. Instead we'll push the agency to adopt ambitious, rigorous technology-forcing standards that reduce and ultimately prevent carbon pollution from aircraft — including the rapid development and adoption of electric aircraft — as well as requiring adoption of readily available but under-utilized operational and efficiency measures to minimize fuel use.

Protecting Workers and Communities

As the aviation industry transitions to an environmentally just and sustainable model, we're committed to working with partners in the labor movement to make sure workers are protected, with strong labor safeguards for flight attendants, pilots, ground workers, caterers and other workers. Decarbonizing the aviation industry is the way to protect and strengthen jobs in this sector in the long term.

People and the planet can afford nothing less than a transformed aviation industry that rapidly transitions to 100% clean, renewable energy and protects workers, wildlife and communities at every step of the way.

Photo courtesy Flickr/dsleeter_2000