A new study has found that just 1% of the world’s population was responsible for half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. It also found that private air travel is the most energy-intense form of flight, and says that individual users of private aircraft can contribute to emissions of up to 7500 tonnes of CO2 per year.

According to the study by Stefan Gössling and Andreas Humpe, the share of the world’s population traveling by air in 2018 was 11%, with 4% at most taking international flights. Its analysis suggests that a minor share of air travelers – at most 1% of the world population – is responsible for a large share of warming, with these frequent flyers accounting for more than half of the total emissions from passenger air travel.

A passenger plane flies through a dark sky at dusk
The share of the world’s population traveling by air in 2018 was 11% © Bogdan Khmelnytskyi/Shutterstock

In addition, these very high-emitters are geographically located in a few countries. The study found that airlines produced a billion tonnes of CO2 that year, with US air passengers' emissions being larger than the combined emissions of the 10 countries that came next on the list. It says that these frequent air travelers are very wealthy individuals, and the effect of market-based measures on reducing their emissions is debatable, specifically in regard to industry plans for mitigation.

According to the study's authors, the conclusions of the study highlight the need for aviation climate governance, possibly at national and regional levels, to tackle emissions from aviation. "The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic represents an opportunity to rethink aviation in terms of demand distributions, air transport wants and needs (private aircraft, first-class suites), as well as aviation’s growth trajectory under recovery scenarios and the sector’s growing interference with mitigation goals," they say.

"The global scale, distribution and growth of aviation: Implications for climate change" by Stefan Gössling and Andreas Humpe is published in ScienceDirect and you can read it here.

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