Opinion pieces

Letter: Climate agenda and aviation

Sir, – Mark Paul's article on emissions from aviation ("Climate agenda brings real challenges for international tourism", Business Opinion, April 29th) tackles a crucial aspect of Ireland's climate challenge.

As an island, we are dependent on aviation.

However, it is disappointing that he adds the caveat “it is argued” to a sentence referring to the environmental damage from emissions caused by the burning of jet fuel. This fact is not up for debate – we know that burning jet fuel is harmful for our environment.

That is why I am pushing for higher targets for green aviation fuels and aviation emissions reductions in new laws at the European Parliament.

The details of a crucial new law known as the “Refuel Aviation Regulation” are currently under discussion at parliament. As lead negotiator for the Greens, I have proposed higher targets for green fuels. As it stands, the draft law anticipates only 2 per cent sustainable aviation fuel by 2025, 5 per cent by 2030 and 63 per cent by 2050. From my discussions with airlines, industry players, and NGOs, I know we can be more ambitious. At the same time, we must also ensure that increased use of biofuels does not exacerbate the food security crisis, a reality worsened by war in Ukraine. We can avoid doing this by prioritising the production of synthetic aviation fuel. Industry players tell me they are prepared to ramp up production of e-kerosene, but they need clear targets in the proposed new law. That is why I am pushing for higher sustainable aviation fuel targets, and the introduction of synthetic aviation fuel targets, in this new law.

That being said, emissions caused by burning jet fuel are just the tip of the iceberg. The draft law also overlooks the true climate cost of flying by excluding the non-CO2 impacts of burning jet fuel at altitude, which are up to three times more damaging. Emissions at high altitudes cause contrail formation, which have a higher net warming effect than CO2. Soot dispersal is another issue, and these impacts combined make aviation as damaging to the Earth as concrete production. This issue must be addressed through higher targets for aviation emissions reductions. Looking ahead to the next decade, electrically propelled aircraft and hydrogen offer additional alternatives for low-emission flying and my amendments offer a pathway for these technologies.

Aviation is also one of the most unequal forms of transport, with just 1 per cent of the world population responsible for 50 per cent of CO2 emissions from commercial aviation. Around 90 per cent of people will not board a plane in a given year, studies show. That is why emissions from private and business jets must be included in the draft law. However, we must also think about reducing our appetite for short-break tourism, with such flights contributing to the 40 to 50 degree heatwaves that India is currently enduring. Teleworking can reduce emissions for business travellers and a Sailrail trip to the UK and beyond comes at a fraction of the carbon cost of flying, for those who can spare the time. Regular slow travel has allowed me to significantly reduce my high carbon footprint as an MEP. It also allows time to think, read and enjoy the view. Aviation is an important contributor to Ireland’s economy, but unless we tackle rising emissions it will continue to cause exceptional damage to our fragile Earth and make the pain of adjusting to this reality much worse later on. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.


May 5, 2022

first published

The Irish Times

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