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Why The Aviation Industry Must Urgently Reduce CO2 Emissions

To remedy the current climate crisis, nearly 200 nations have pledged to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 to prevent the global surface temperature from increasing past 1.5 DegC. Successfully abating the world’s collective CO2 emissions will require that every industry and sector divest from fossil-fuels and invest in viable climate solutions to reduce CO2 emissions. Aviation is no exception to this directive. As one of the primary contributors of CO2 emissions worldwide, the aviation industry must lessen its environmental impact, and soon.

Aviation Is One of the Largest Industry Emitters of CO2 In the World

Aviation is responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions annually and accounts for 12% of all transportation emissions each year [1, 2]. This might seem like a small measure of emissions compared to what other sectors produce, but the CO2 emitted via aviation is not adequately proportionate to the number of people who benefit from air travel. It is estimated that just over 10% of the global population flies each year [3]; yet if aviation was a country, it would be considered one of the top 10 emitters worldwide, ranking higher than the United Kingdom [4]. A flight from Montreal, Canada to London, England emits the same amount of carbon as someone in Europe heating their home for one year [5].


Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, air traffic was at an all-time high, servicing 4.5 billion passengers in 20191 and emitting 920 Mt of CO2 globally [6]. Aviation traffic has been steadily increasing year after year and is projected to grow substantially in the approaching decades. By 2050, the aviation industry is expected to see 10 billion passengers annually [7]. This means that aviation might eventually occupy 25% of global CO2 emissions if the industry continues “business as usual” and does not mitigate their emissions or transition to green energy, such as through phasing out petroleum-based fuels in aircrafts [6].

"Aviation is responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions annually and accounts for 12% of all transportation emissions each year [1, 2]."

There is widespread concern that aviation will remain an especially difficult industry to decarbonize, even as the demand for air transportation continues to grow. National governments have recognized that for sectors such as energy and transportation, decarbonizing will prove challenging. To incite appropriate climate action across these fossil-fuel based industries, governments are beginning to administer carbon taxes.

To Enforce CO2 Emission Reductions, Governments Will Implement Carbon Levies

As we approach 2050 and nations are required to scale up their climate initiatives, we should expect to see an introduction of carbon tax globally. Canada already has a carbon tax in place, and all types of fossil fuels are subject to the levy, including aviation fuel [8]. By 2022, the tax is set to increase to $50/tonne and projected to rise to $170/tonne by 2030 [8].

At COP26, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, called for global carbon taxation, proposing it will challenge the sectors which are responsible for the majority of global warming to invest in reduction solutions and lower their emissions [9]. According to the Prime Minister, less than 20% of emissions worldwide are subject to a carbon tax, and he wants that number to triple to 60% over the next eight years [10].


The European Commission is also focusing their efforts to discourage the use of fossil fuels. In July 2021, it was proposed that the Energy Tax Directive be revised to tax energy products and services more aggressively [11]. Under this proposal, fuels will be taxed based on their environmental impact instead of their volume, causing greater financial obligations for industries which depend on fossil fuels [11].

"For the aviation industry to avoid additional loss through carbon levies, the answer will not be found in policy resistance but in constructive efforts to reduce or offset carbon emissions."

The expectation that governments will soon implement carbon pricing systems continues to receive less than enthusiastic reactions from airlines. Ultimately taxation leads to increased ticket prices for passengers, weakening an airline’s competitive advantage [12]. For the aviation industry to avoid additional loss through carbon levies, the answer will not be found in policy resistance but in constructive efforts to reduce or offset carbon emissions.

The Aviation Industry Is Entering a Crucial Era for Sustainability

The aviation industry is already making notable progress toward reducing emissions and adopting sustainable aircraft technology. Since 1990, fuel efficiency has improved across the industry by an average of 54% [13]. Airlines have also recently begun adjusting their fleets to improve efficiency, mainly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The substantial decrease in global air traffic led to a multitude of grounded airplanes worldwide, prompting airlines to retire older, less efficient aircraft and replace them with newer models [13].

A huge milestone for the aviation industry came recently in October 2021 when the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents approximately 290 airlines and 83% of air traffic globally, committed to achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 [14, 15]. The established pathway to net zero will require the use of sustainable aviation fuel, improvement of aircraft operations, carbon offsetting, and the development of new sustainable technologies [16].


Following the pledge to “Fly Net Zero”, IATA’s CEO, Willie Walsh, emphasized the importance of cost-effective solutions that will aid the industry in accomplishing this important goal.

“[We’ve got to] translate… fantastic technology into something that is commercially viable at prices that the airline industry can afford, and then longer term, it’s new technologies… [perhaps] some other system that we haven’t even dreamed of yet" [17].

A cost-effective carbon removal solution like Exhale Aerosystems' new product is the victory the aviation industry has been searching for. Exhale Aerosystems will install carbon removal systems onboard commercial and private aircraft, then collect, sequester, and utilize the CO2 separated from the air in flight. This is expected to will allow over 1 Mt of aviation emissions to be offset per year, which will vastly reduce the industry’s carbon footprint and help airlines across the world advance toward their goal of net zero emissions by 2050.


1. Air Transport Action Group. 2020. Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders report for 2020 [Internet]. Air Transport Action Group. [cited 2021 Nov 17]. Available from:

2. Facts & figures. Air Transport Action Group; c2021 [accessed 2021 Nov 4].

3. Woodyatt A. 17 Nov 2020. Half of the world's aviation emissions is caused by just 1% of the population, study finds. Cable News Network. [Internet] [cited 2020 Nov 4]. Available from:

4. Edmond C. If airlines were a country they'd be one of the world's top 10 greenhouse gas emitters [article]. World Economic Forum. [accessed 2021 Nov 2].

5. Air travel and climate change. David Suzuki Foundation; c2021 [accessed 2021 Nov 2]

6. Graver B, Rutherford D, Zheng S. (2020). CO2 Emissions from Commercial Aviation: 2013, 2018, and 2019 [Internet]. Washington (DC): International Council on Clean Transportation; [cited 2021 Nov 3]. Available from:

7. Our commitment to fly net zero. International Air Transport Association; 2021 Oct 4 [accessed 2021 Nov 2].

8. Environment and Climate Change Canada. (2017). Technical Paper on the Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop [Internet]. Gatineau (QC): Environment and Climate Change Canada; [cited 2021 Nov 4]. Available from:

9. Tasker J. 2 Nov 2021. Trudeau calls for global carbon tax at COP26 summit. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. [Internet] [cited 2021 Nov 4]. Available from:

10. Rabson M. 2 Nov 2021. Trudeau takes carbon pricing debate to the global stage at COP26. The Canadian Press. [Internet] [cited 2021 Nov 4]. Available from:

11. Revision of the energy tax directive. European Commission; c2021 [accessed 2021 Nov 2]

12. Tax is not the answer to aviation sustainability. 14 July 2021. International Air Transport Association; [accessed 2021 Nov 2].

13. Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders. Feb 2021. Fact Sheet #3: Tracking Aviation Efficiency [Internet]. Air Transport Action Group; [cited 2021 Nov 4]. Available from:

14. About us. c2021. International Air Transport Association. [accessed 2021 Nov 4].

15. International Air Transport Association. Oct 2021. Resolution on the Industry's Commitment to Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050 [Internet]. [cited 2021 Nov 4]. Available from:

16. Net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 4 Oct 2021. International Air Transport Association. [accessed 2021 Nov 3].

17. IATA tv. 2021. Fly Net Zero. [Internet].; [cited 2021 Nov 4]. Available from:


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