Aviation CO2 Emissions 2%. Shipping CO2 Emissions 4%.

Airliner CO2 emissions

The news today that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has revised its estimates and warns that households will need to reduce their carbon emissions by 90% by 2050 in order to offset the growth in aviation comes as a bit of a surprise. There’s never any mention in these announcements about shipping and the amount of CO2 emissions that shipping generates, or how fast it’s growing. How will we have to modify our lifestyles to accommodate the growth in shipping?

The CCC’s own website lays out the bare facts. In its section on international aviation it tells us that domestic and international aviation accounts for about 2% of total global CO2 emissions and that this figure could rise to 15-20% by the year 2050.

Shipping on the other hand currently accounts for 3% and could account for 15-30% by 2050. However, a report in The Guardian (March, 2007) put the current figure for shipping at 4%.

Either way, shipping accounts for at least 50% more of the CO2 emissions than aviation if not double the amount. So why aren’t climate change protesters chaining themselves to cruise ships, or demonstrating outside dock expansion projects and shipyards? Why isn’t the world’s shipping included in all these debates and recommendations from pressure groups and advisory bodies?

The anti aviation brigade love to spin the simplistic line that ‘planes are bad, trains, boats, and electric cars are good’ and that this fact alone is enough to slap on more and more ‘green’ taxes on air fares and to cut back on any expansion of airports, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. As we’ve seen, shipping has a poor record in terms of carbon emissions and it’s getting worse, and every train or electric car needs fossil or nuclear powered power stations to produce the electricity to manufacture it to keep it running.

Meanwhile, aero engineers have known since the days of the Wright brothers that since an aircraft has to carry its fuel aloft the aircraft’s engines and airframe must be as efficient as possible in order to obtain the maximum amount of energy from every gallon of fuel. In every decade in the last hundred years aero engines have become increasingly more efficient, quieter, and less polluting. A buoyant aviation industry means that the research and the progress can continue.

Update November 2009:  More lively debate on the subject here.

Update March 2011:  Enviro.aero – Clearer Vision, Cleaner Skies, Corrected broken/moved links to CCC site, 2050 Aviation CO2 Emissions Reduction Plan Unveiled