Airlines failing to tackle emissions, research suggests

The world’s largest airlines are not doing enough to reduce emissions and help tackle climate change, according to new research.

Research from the London School of Economics looked at corporate disclosures by 20 of the world’s largest airlines and found that their long-term goals mostly fall well short of the Paris Agreement’s aims to limit global warming to 2C.

The airlines also show a ‘lack of long-term planning’ with none of the 20 stating how they will tackle their flight emissions after 2025 or acknowledging flights’ wider contribution to climate change such as through the formation of contrails and clouds.

Faith Ward, co-chair of the LSE’s Transition Pathway Initiative, which led the research, said: ‘Investors have a clear message to the aviation sector: When it comes to carbon performance they must be in it for the long haul.

‘That means setting stretching emissions reduction targets to 2030 and beyond, and ending a reliance on offsetting. It’s clear from TPI’s research that this is not currently the case.’

The airline sector is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, accounting for 2% of global CO2 emissions and 12% of transport-related CO2 emissions.

While many airlines have formally adopted industry-led targets to reduce their emissions, these rely on carbon offsetting and don’t make clear how much airlines plan to reduce emissions caused by their own flight activity.

Evaluating airlines’ carbon management practices and emissions performance, academics found that Delta, United, Lufthansa and Japan’s ANA Group are leading the way on carbon management, while several Asian airlines such as Air China and China Southern are only aware of the issue.

Meanwhile, Easyjet were named as the only airline whose CO2 emissions intensity of flights will fall under 2C benchmarks after 2022.

ANA Group, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Singapore Airlines were found to have the highest emissions intensities at present, with ANA and Korean Air’s emission intensities even set to rise by 2020.

Investors involved with the LSE’s research said the study will help them judge which airlines are making the best progress towards a low carbon economy.

David Russell, Head of Responsible Investment at USS pension scheme, said: ‘The airline sector is one where emissions – and therefore exposure to climate policy risk – are predicted to grow. As a result, the sector has to be able to explain to its investors how it will manage the shift to a lower carbon future.

‘The analysis shows that whilst some in the sector are treating this issue strategically, others have some way to go.’

Ways it has been suggested in which the aviation industry can respond to climate change – in addition to carbon offsetting – include improved energy efficiency and a shift towards bio fuels.