For a long time, global institutions, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have excluded the aviation sector from a list of industries that contribute to environmental degradation. However, in this paper, we find that the environmental impact of the aviation industry is a major cause of global concern because, although a small segment of the world’s population is responsible for the demand for air travel in the sector, the business it generates is responsible for carbon emissions in this industry.
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This research aims to find out the impact of climate change in the aviation industry. Five key research questions inform this study. They include finding out the actions taken by stakeholders in the aviation industry to reduce its impact on climate change, investigating how climate change concerns affect operations in the aviation industry and finding out how effective the aviation industry has been in reducing its environmental impact.
The last two research questions focus on investigating the challenges experienced by stakeholders in the aviation industry in reducing the carbon blueprint of the sector and discussing additional steps the aviation industry can take to reduce its environmental impact.
To answer the above questions, the researcher used a mixed-method research approach that includes the attributes of both qualitative and quantitative techniques. The choice of the mixed methods research approach was informed by the fact that the research topic included both qualitative and quantitative attributes. For example, the mixed methods research approach was selected because some challenges experienced by stakeholders in the aviation industry, in their effort to comply with environmental laws, are qualitative, while others are quantitative.
Attitudinal issues and political factors surrounding the climate change debate are also some concerns that highlighted the importance of evaluating the research questions through a qualitative lens. Similarly, there was a need to evaluate the same research issue from a quantitative perspective because some of the research issues explored in this paper have an economic angle, which was best analyzed quantitatively. For example, the measurement of carbon emissions associated with the aviation sector is a quantitative issue. The concurrent research design was the main research framework used in this paper. It was selected because equal attention was given to both qualitative and quantitative research approaches during the data collection and data analysis processes.
Secondary data was used in this study and it was obtained from “Google scholar,” “SAGE database,” “Inder Science Online,” and “Emerald Insight.” The keywords used to search were “climate change,” “aviation industry,” “environmental” and “emissions.” The inclusion criterion was defined by the quality, reliability, and relevance of research materials. The researcher only included recent research materials that were published between 2012 to 2017.
The information used also had to be credible and reliable. Therefore, the researcher used books, journals, and credible websites as the main source of research materials. These documents also provided the researcher with official statistics and technical reports that were used in understanding the relationship between climate change and the aviation sector. Overall, this search strategy yielded 89 research materials that were used in this review. The main data analysis method employed in this study was the thematic analysis, which involved six key steps – familiarization with research data, coding process, searching for themes, reviewing the themes, defining and naming the themes, and preparing the final report.
The game theory emerged as the main theoretical framework of analysis. It helped to explain the relationship between conflict and cooperation among different actors and groups in the aviation and environmental sectors. Stemming from the 1950s, this theory has been widely applied in different scientific fields, including politics, economics, and international business. It was also applicable to this study because the relationship between climate change concerns and aviation growth is an iterative game, which involves different players who use a common pool resource (fossil fuel), which no one owns, but everybody could gain access to. The main groups of players in this iterative game are stakeholders in the aviation industry and environmentalists.
The findings of this paper show that climate change is a serious concern in modern society because there have been many changes occurring in weather patterns and climatic conditions that threaten the sustainability of the planet and its ecosystems. Based on this concern, the researcher has emphasized the need to understand the main causes of climate change and mitigate them. The aviation sector has been of particular interest in this study because it is among the most rapidly growing industries of the global economy and the most unexplored and unregulated ones, relative to its contribution to climate change.
Evidence from this paper shows that although the industry has made gains in reducing its environmental impact, these gains are insufficient in mitigating its impact on climate change. The main reason for the ineffectiveness of the industry in achieving its goals is the increase in air travel demand that has stemmed from a rise in the middle class across major economies of the developing world. While such developments should be a wakeup call to stakeholders in the industry to do more in addressing the growing environmental impact of the industry, there has been a lack of sincerity among them and a deliberate effort to make sure players in the sector are exempted from complying with current environmental laws and emission levels.
The EU has made a commendable step in stopping such errand behaviors in the airline industry, but more needs to be done to develop a holistic approach to addressing climate change concerns, especially in other parts of the world. However, this paper demonstrates that the poor attitude that stakeholders in the aviation sector have towards controlling their emission levels and the delicate balance that needs to be achieved in catering to environmental issues and economic gains present a big problem in creating realistic and sustainable changes in this sector. Nonetheless, the adoption of the recommendations outlined in this study could mark a positive step towards changing this situation.
Background of the Study
Climate change is often regarded as the unpredicted change in weather patterns, brought about by biotic processes, plate tectonic movements, and human activities (Maslin 2014). An Intergovernmental Panel on climate change that involved more than 5,000 scientists found that human activities were mostly responsible for climate change (ATAG 2017). Böhm, Misoczky & Moog (2012) add that industrialization and civilization are mostly responsible for this trend because they have significantly increased the number of harmful gases to the atmosphere.
Moreover, Budd, Griggs, and Howarth (2013) say that industrial activities have increased the volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million. This increase happened in the last 15 decades (Budd, Griggs & Howarth 2013).
Increased emissions often lead to changes in weather patterns and variations in solar radiation intensity received by earth (Maslin 2014). The evidence of climate change has been reported in different environmental reports, scientific studies, and even government publications (Kelman et al. 2015). Concrete evidence started emerging from the middle of the 19th century when scientists reported increased surface temperatures in different parts of the world (Abbas 2012). Earlier evidence on climate change was developed before the 19th century, but the use of indirect evidence that could not be holistically relied on marred its acceptance (Kelman et al. 2015; Maslin 2014).
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Beyond these facts, new evidence has pointed out specific indicators of climate change, including rising sea levels, increased rates of ice melting, dramatic weather changes, extreme weather conditions, and rising global temperatures, just to mention a few (Maslin 2014). Completing these facts is recent historical and archaeological evidence that points towards a worsening trend in agricultural weather patterns and changes in settlements (Abbas 2012; Maslin 2014).
Averagely, statistics show that climate change is synonymous with the warming of the earth – a condition that is likely to increase the rate of precipitation and evaporation on the earth’s surface (Sen 2013b). The effects of these changes are likely to vary with regions because some places are likely to be wetter, while others could be drier, depending on how they respond to the phenomenon of warming earth (Maslin 2014). The general effect of this trend is the increase in ocean temperatures, which is likely to result in an increased rate of glacier warming and a general rise in sea levels (Abbas 2012). The expansion of water through the warming of the oceans is also bound to further increase the volume of water on earth and cause an increase in sea levels (Abbas 2012).
The focus on the aviation sector stems from the fact that this industry is regarded as one of the most intensive forms of carbon-emitting modes of transport (Goetz & Budd 2013). This finding is relative to the number of per hour traveling and per passenger-kilometer commute. The sector contributes up to 781 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, every year, which is about 2% of the global carbon dioxide emission (ATAG 2017).
Relative to this assertion, there are about 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide generated annually (Belobaba, Odoni & Barnhart 2015). Research also shows that emissions from this sector are expected to grow significantly in the next decade, as the demand for air travel increases (Romero, Palacios & Tafur 2012). In the UK alone, the volume of emissions is expected to grow from 5% to 25% by the year 2050 (Aviation Environment Federation 2017). This growth is expected to happen even if the sector’s carbon emissions are capped at 37.5 MtCO2, which is the carbon emissions cap instituted by the UK in the year 2005 (the committee on climate change recommended this cap) (ATAG 2017).
The environmental impact of the aviation industry is a major cause of concern because although a small segment of the world’s population is responsible for the 3,900 billion passenger-kilometers made in the sector (annually), up to 3% of the carbon emissions associated with human activities on the planet originate from this industry (Aviation Environment Federation 2017). Studies also show that its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions on the global space could increase by up to 15% in the year 2050 (ATAG 2017). This increase is mostly attributed to the projected growth in the sector (Aviation Environment Federation 2017).
Even in relatively mature aviation markets, such as that of the UK, experts still project that the industry is expected to experience more growth of about 1% – 3% from now to the year 2050 (Aviation Environment Federation 2017). These growth rates outstrip projected numbers made by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which estimates that the efficiency rate in the sector could be capped at 2% until the year 2050 (ICAO 2013a). Based on the rising demand for air transport and the growth rate of emissions attributed to the sector, the aviation industry stands out as one of the fastest contributors of carbon emissions on earth.
To find out the impact of climate change in the aviation industry
- What actions has the aviation industry taken to reduce its impact on climate change?
- How have climate change concerns affected operations in the aviation industry?
- How effective has the aviation industry been in reducing its environmental impact?
- What challenges do industry stakeholders experience in reducing the carbon blueprint of the sector?
- What additional steps can the aviation industry take to reduce its environmental impact?
Significance of the Study
This study is significant because climate change concerns are threatening the sustainability of global businesses (Schaefer 2015). The findings of this study will be instrumental in promoting the concept of sustainable businesses by increasing our understanding of the impact of climate change in the aviation industry and demonstrating the relationship between the two. The findings highlighted in this paper will contribute to a greater move towards promoting sustainability in the aviation industry, which is integral to the global economy.
This finding stems from one philosophy shared by environmentalists and researchers, such as Chen and Gettelman (2013), who remind us that we only have one earth and since our human activities affect it, it is imperative to find solutions that reduce the harmful impact of human activities on the environment. Additionally, from our focus on the aviation industry, the findings of this study could provide a model for other industries that want to promote sustainability through a redesign of their business practices.
Lastly, the findings of this study will expand the existing body of literature explaining the intersection between climate change concerns and the current growth witnessed in the aviation industry. This analysis will provide more perspective on the development of this industry, as it continues to dominate most aspects of global transportation. Indeed, as Beyene & Zevenhoven (2013) point out, our global future depends on it.
Structure of the Report
This report is divided into six main chapters. The first chapter is the introduction chapter, which sets the stage for the rest of the paper. In this chapter, information containing the research topic, research problem, research aim, research questions, and significance of the study are highlighted. The second chapter is the literature review section, which is a review of the existing literature surrounding the research topic. In this section, a review of past research studies, theories, and models associated with the research topic is undertaken.
The purpose of this chapter is to highlight what researchers already know about the research topic and to highlight the gap in the literature that would be filled with the current study. The third chapter of this paper is the methodology section. It highlights the overall research strategy adopted in this paper and explains how the researcher came up with the findings. Key tenets of this section include the research approach, research design, and data collection methods used in the paper. Complementing this information is an explanation of the data analysis strategy that also appears in the same chapter. The fourth section is the findings chapter, which explores the main themes that emerged in the study.
Stated differently, it is a statement of the findings of the secondary research analysis. The fifth chapter is the analysis and discussion chapter, which reviews the findings of the study (highlighted in the fourth chapter) in an attempt to answer the main research questions. In this chapter, the researcher will put the findings in context to understand the impact of climate change in the aviation industry. The last chapter is the conclusion and recommendation section, which will provide a summary of the main points in the study and suggest several recommendations for the research problem.
This chapter explores what other researchers have written about the relationship between the aviation industry and climate change. It also contains information about different concepts, theories, and assumptions that characterize the relationship between climate change and the aviation industry. At the end of this chapter, it would be easier to understand the gap in the literature that would be filled with the current study. However, before delving into this discussion, it is important to understand the theoretical framework that guides this study.
The game theory would provide the theoretical framework for this paper. Alka (2015) defines it as the mathematical analysis of conflict and relationships among different players, who often have varied interests, but want to achieve a common goal. In the context of this paper, the game theory would help us to understand conflict and cooperation among different actors and groups in the aviation and environmental sectors.
Stemming from the 1950s, this theory has been widely applied in different scientific fields, including politics, economics, and evolutionary biology (Acton 2012). The game theory applies to this study because the relationship between climate change concerns and aviation growth is an iterative game, which involves different players who use a common pool resource (fossil fuel), which no one owns, but everybody could gain access to. The main groups of players in this iterative game are stakeholders in the aviation industry and environmentalists.
The game theory would provide a decent enough framework that would help us to analyze what needs to be done to merge the interests of both sets of stakeholders to promote or develop, a sustainable environment for doing business (Kägi 2012). The same theoretical framework would help us to understand the environmental policies that outline the inputs, outputs, and considerations that should be analyzed to promote an environmentally sustainable future.
Thus, through this theoretical framework, we would be able to answer different questions about how climate change concerns and the interests of the aviation sector intersect to promote a sustainable operating environment that serves both groups. Here, we will be able to understand important issues concerning our research topic, such as the cost of reducing emissions in the aviation industry, climate change gains to be experienced, viz-a-viz current strategies for reducing emissions in the sector, and the unique benefits and challenges that actors in the aviation industry experience when mitigating the effects of climate change.
Given the nature of these decisions and the capability of the aforementioned theoretical framework to explain the relationship between climate change and aviation, we should be able to model policies and decisions that explain the intersection between aviation and climate change issues. Nonetheless, before delving into these details, the section below explains the concept of climate change.
Researchers attribute climate change concerns to changes in solar irradiance because they say that changes in the output of the sun’s energy are responsible for the variations in weather patterns because the sun is the main source of energy for the planet (Duda et al. 2013; IPCC 2013). The works of different researchers, such as Coffel & Horton (2015), affirm this fact because they show that the variability in solar power is the main source of climate change in the world. After all, the sun provides the power that drives the world’s climate system. The power of the solar system in determining global weather patterns could be stemming from several environmental studies, which show that increases and declines in solar outputs have caused some of the most dramatic changes in weather patterns (Duda et al. 2013).
Conflicting studies have disputed the assertion that climate change is solely attributed to changes in solar energy because evidence also points out that, although there have been changes in weather patterns within the last few years, the energy output from the sun has remained relatively constant from the 1750s to date (Lin 2013). Some studies also point out that this energy may only have increased marginally – a phenomenon, which is not directly correlated to the more significant changes in weather patterns witnessed today (Maslin 2014).
Scientists also say that if the output of the sun’s energy is responsible for an increase in the earth’s temperature/atmosphere, the same increase should be replicated in all strata of the atmosphere (Maslin 2014). However, this is not the case because there is evidence that there has been a decrease in the temperature of the upper atmosphere (Lin 2013). Additionally, scientists also argue that it is difficult for the current climate change models that rely on solar irradiance to fully explain climate changes without necessarily including the impact of greenhouse gases in the same phenomenon (Coffel & Horton 2015).
Many scientists have pointed out that human activities are the main causes of climate change, with a majority of them pointing to industrialization as the main cause of the change (Maslin 2014; Lindenthal 2014; Kelman et al. 2015; Adejuwon & Leary 2012). For example, Adejuwon & Leary (2012) point out that the burning of fossil fuel and the rapid rate of deforestation in many countries is partly linked to rising global temperatures and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Black (2013) says it is impossible to delink human activities and climate change because doing so is akin to disassociating smoking and cancer, which has been proven through more than five decades of research.
Thus, we can think of the association between human activities and environmental change as being the same as the relationship between smoking and cancer. Some researchers demonstrate higher statistical confidence in the relationship between human activities and climate change than the association between smoking and cancer (Kelman et al. 2015). The link between human activities and climate change comes from nine lines of evidence, which focus on distinct areas of simple chemistry, basic accounting, carbon dioxide (CO2) measurement, chemical analysis, basic physics, the process of monitoring climate conditions, ruling out natural factors, employing computer models, and consensus-building among scientists.
Emissions from Different Economic Sectors
Different sectors of the global economy are responsible for contributing to the high rate of emissions that cause climate change. The table below shows the increase in greenhouse gases from multiple sources.
Globally, there has been a steady increase in emissions since the 1970s. Indeed, from this period to 2004, emissions have increased from 29GtCO2-eq to 49GtCO2-eq (Gössling & Upham 2012). This growth in emissions is largely attributed to fossil fuel use because estimates show that up to 56% of emissions are attributed to this product (Medeiros, Silva & Bousson 2012). Comparatively, deforestation accounts for 17% of these emissions (Gössling & Upham 2012). Methane (CH4) production and nitrous oxide (NO2) account for the rest of the emissions (Medeiros, Silva & Bousson 2012).
If we evaluate the aforementioned emissions in terms of sector contribution, we find that the transport industry contributes only a small proportion of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Statistics indicate that this industry only accounts for about 13% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (Liou et al. 2013). This small contribution informs why many researchers say that the industry is only responsible for a small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions (Gössling & Upham 2012).
Proponents of the aviation sector say that the industry is responsible for an even smaller percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions of only 2% (Otto 2017; Paul & Lijesen 2012). According to Burbidge (2016), the total carbon emissions produced by the aviation industry in 2004 were 705 million tonnes. These emissions were attributed to commercial aircraft, air force military operations, and general aviation operations. Statistically, this volume of carbon emissions represents about 2.5% of emissions attributed to fossil fuel use (Gössling & Upham 2012).
Carvalho & Cristina (2013) say that if we were to assess the total contribution of greenhouse gases from the aviation industry, we would find that the industry contributes up to 3% of total greenhouse gases. Although this percentage of gas emission may still be regarded as negligible, relative to the contribution of greenhouse gases in other sectors, Graf et al. (2012) say we should evaluate it in terms of the rate of growth of the aviation sector and the desired reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
This analysis should also be analyzed bearing in mind the understanding that the vibrancy of the aviation industry is still confided in industrialized countries. In this regard, it is estimated that the aviation industry contributes a greater share of greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized countries as opposed to those that are not (Gössling & Upham 2012). The focus on industrialized countries is partly informed by the fact that only 2%-3% of the global population participates in air travel (Graf et al. 2012).
Halkos (2015) reminds us that emissions should be evaluated in light of their relative importance because there no other economic sector is pushing emissions faster than the aviation sector. For example, a return trip from Europe to Thailand, which is a popular tourist destination form most Europeans would contribute up to 2tCO2 per passenger (Gössling & Upham 2012). These emission numbers are about 50% of the global per capita emissions, which stand at 4tCO2 (Gössling & Upham 2012).
Given that this figure is considered high in terms of global standards, experts figure that the aviation sector is bound to significantly contribute to unsustainable development (Ryley & Zanni 2015). The diagram below shows the global emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases from an analysis of the contribution of different sectors to global greenhouse production.
The contribution of the aviation sector to climate change could be attributed to the production of non-CO2 emissions generated by the sector at high altitudes. Research shows that these non-CO2 emissions could dramatically increase the warming impact of the sector on the planet (Sen 2013a). If this happens, Bows-Larkin (2014) says the industry could have a much greater impact on the climate than current estimates.
Although the technological change in the aviation sector has helped to reduce the contribution of carbon emissions from the aviation industry, estimates show that it has been unable to keep pace with the growth of the sector and the industry’s addition to global greenhouse gases. Studies that have investigated the UK aviation sector show that although technological changes in the sector are impressive, they have only created a less than 1% increase in fleet efficiency (ATAG 2017).
The emissions produced by the aviation industry show that it affects climate change. However, stakeholders in the industry and some environmentalists often seem to disagree on the impact of the sector on climate change and the effects of climate change on the sector. While proponents of the aviation sector argue that the industry does not have a significant carbon footprint, compared to other transport sectors, such as the automobile industry, environmentalists contend that the impact of the industry is much greater than conceived by advocates of the aviation sector (Blockley 2016).
Given the rising rates of carbon emissions reported from different industrial sectors, there is a strong need to reduce emissions shortly. Some scientists are even emphasizing the need for a dramatic reduction in emissions to save the planet from the effects of climate change through a reduction in harmful economic activities (Maslin 2014).
The Greenhouse Effect
The greenhouse effect is broadly defined as the increase in greenhouse gases that are responsible for a general increase in the earth’s temperature. The diagram below explains how this effect occurs.
Researchers have identified different types of gases that are produced from industrial activities, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. They appear below:
Water vapor is perceived as a unique and common type of greenhouse gas that acts as a “feedback” to the climate. In other words, when it rises, it warms up and creates a dense cloud that is often associated with precipitation, thereby creating a feedback mechanism that is partly responsible for the increase in greenhouse gas effect (ATAG 2017).
Carbon dioxide is also regarded as a common type of greenhouse gas that is partly responsible for climate change (Leary et al. 2012). Although a minor type of gas, carbon dioxide could be emitted from natural processes, such as breathing, volcanic eruptions, and selected human activities such as deforestation (ATAG 2017). Coupled with the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes, these human activities are regarded as being the main causes of a 33% increase in the volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the onset of the industrial revolution (ATAG 2017). Ibitz (2014) considers carbon dioxide as a perennial force of climate change.
A molecular analysis of both carbon dioxide and methane shows that the latter is a more active source of a greenhouse gas than the former (Kutasi 2012). However, it is lower in intensity compared to carbon dioxide because fewer processes lead to its production. Methane could be produced from both natural processes and human-induced processes (Kutasi 2012). Some of the main sources of the gas that occur through natural processes include the decomposition of waste and effluent in a landfill, agricultural activities, and the management of livestock manure (Nuri et al. 2013).
Although it has a low intensity, nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas that hurts the stratospheric ozone (Ibitz 2014). Scientists estimate that 30% of the nitrous oxide found in the atmosphere is mostly present because of agricultural activities (Khodayari 2013). The use of commercial and organic fertilizers is considered one of the main sources of nitrous oxide (Ibitz 2014). Fossil fuel combustion and nitrous acid production are also other sources of nitrous oxide production. Studies also attribute biomass burning to the same gas (Jacobson et al. 2013; Lindenthal 2014).
Concerns about Climate Change associated with the Aviation Industry
For a long time, climate change experts have not focused on the environmental impact of the aviation sector, relative to other industries that contribute to climate change. Abbas (2012) says that politicians and the wider public only recently started seeing the aviation industry as one sector that is relevant to climate change discussions. This new attention has surprised some observers who point out that the aviation industry has had a special role in the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere for the last three decades (Jacobson et al. 2013).
Lindenthal (2014) adds that, for many decades, the aviation industry has been analyzed for its contribution to the fields of physics and chemistry, with little focus being made to understand its sociocultural impact. Based on the lack of this focus, some researchers now argue that the importance of studying the main drivers promoting growth in the sector is as important as evaluating the intersection between the industry and climate change.
The delay in the analysis of the aviation industry as relevant to climate change debates could be explained by the perception that this mode of transport is exclusive and only serves the interest of a minority of travelers (Lund et al. 2012). This perception has prompted some people to believe that this industry is only responsible for a small share of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions (Kelman et al. 2015). Indeed, compared to other forms of transport, such as the automobile sector, which has witnessed a rapid growth in user numbers in the past century, the aviation industry is only recently witnessing its growth phase.
This trend has been largely promoted by the growth in the number of low-cost airlines in Europe, Asia, and the United States (Romero, Palacios & Tafur 2012). The emergence of new markets in Asia, such as China and India, has also increased demand for this mode of transport because it is slowly proving to be a new area of mass transport (Roson 2012).
Based on the renewed interest of the environmental impact of the aviation industry on climate change researchers, academicians, scientists, industry experts, and environmentalists have discussed the relationship between the two at different global panels of environmental bodies such as the 4th and 5th Intergovernmental panels on climate change (World Meteorological Organisation 2016). Such discussions have aimed to assess the impact of the aviation sector, as a key area of the transportation industry, on the environment (World Meteorological Organisation 2016). These discussions have further led to the development of research studies that have delved deeper into the impact of climate change on the aviation sector, with a specific focus on the small and macro-scale effects of the interaction between climate change concerns and growth in the aviation sector (Olsen, Wuebbles & Owen 2013).
The studies involved in understanding the large-scale phenomenon of climate change and the aviation sector have revealed that there is an overall increase in surface temperature associated with the growth of the aviation industry (Khodayari, Olsen & Wuebbles 2014). There have been scientific case studies that have explored the effects of higher surface temperatures on the aviation sector, with most researchers pointing out that the coupling of such temperatures with high levels of humidity may create an unconducive environment for take-off performance at airports (Lombardi et al. 2017).
Using a Radiative Forcing Index, the United Nations conducted a report to establish the effects of the aviation industry on the environment and found that this industry created a warming effect on the planet that was 1.9 times stronger than the effect of CO2 (Staniland 2012). This analysis indicates the impact of climate change in the aviation industry, with supporting evidence showing that these climatic influences may also have a negative influence on the performance of the industry through short runway operations and fuel use (Olsen, Wuebbles & Owen 2013). Although some researchers emphasize the need for regional research on this area of interest, there is consensus that the impact of climate change on aviation industries located in tropical regions should be investigated first (Roson 2012).
Indeed, there is existing evidence that shows that climate change effects already affect the operational hours of some major airports because of the changes in surface temperatures.
What Industry is doing to Reduce Climate Change?
Stakeholders in the aviation industry have tried to reduce their environmental impact in different ways. For example, authorities have intervened through legislative changes to make sure the sector complies with existing environmental standards (Zhou & Penner 2014). According to most literature sampled in this study, legislative changes in the aviation sector are designed to cut emissions (Yilmaz & Imteaz 2014; Yilmaz & Imteaz 2014). Other literature shows that these legislative changes are aimed at increasing compliance with existing emissions standards because currently, most airlines are exempted from the same (Toprak et al. 2013).
For example, the EU has been aggressively advocating for the inclusion of airline companies in EU emission standards (Gössling & Upham 2012). So far, there has been some success in this regard because the EU is regarded as the only region of the world with strict emission standards for airlines to comply with (Yilmaz & Imteaz 2014). This started in 2012 when the region required all airlines that operate international flights in EU member states to be integrated into the EU emissions trading scheme (Gössling & Upham 2012).
Current policy states that emission standards are capped at 97% of the total carbon emissions produced between the year 2004 and the year 2005 (Gössling & Upham 2012). The period 2013 – 2020 will see this cap drop dismally to 95% (Gössling & Upham 2012). Currents standards are aimed at capping carbon dioxide emissions, but recent talks are in line to include nitrogen emissions as part of the capping plan (Zhou & Penner 2014).
In America, airlines are not mandated to reduce their emissions; instead, they do so voluntarily through their participation in trading mechanisms (Gössling & Upham 2012). The Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) is one of them (Gössling & Upham 2012). While such regulatory emission frameworks are legally binding, there is low participation of existing airlines in such agreements. For example, there has been little interest to participate in the CCX (Zhou & Penner 2014). However, evidence shows that this situation is slowly changing because individual states are starting to take legal steps to cut emissions by requiring airlines to comply with new emission standards, based on their environmental reform standards (Teixeira et al. 2012).
Two recent legislative developments could have had significant implications for the aviation industry in the US but failed to do so. In 2007, the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works developed a bill that would limit emissions in the airline sector through the introduction of a framework that was modeled from the European one (Paul & Lijesen 2012). The law would have allowed airlines to have right-to-emit credits, which would be linked to their output of greenhouse gases (Paul & Lijesen 2012).
Environmentalists hailed the bill for its potential in controlling emissions, but at the same time faulted it for failing to outline measures that were stringent enough to bring change to the aviation sector (Yilmaz & Imteaz 2014). However, this bill failed because some legislators felt that it would be detrimental to the economic growth of the US.
Building on the defeat of this bill, some airlines have taken intra-airline measures to cut their emissions. For example, a cross-section of American-based and Canadian-based airlines have set emission reduction targets of up to 30% by the year 2020 (Paul & Lijesen 2012). However, these targets are below a 1990 baseline. Six states in the United States and two provinces in Canada have also gone a step further and set a target for 2050 at a 70% reduction in emissions levels (Teixeira et al. 2012). However, since these attempts are difficult to police, observers argue that it may be difficult to realize reductions in greenhouse gases in the short-term (Yilmaz & Imteaz 2014).
As an alternative to the above strategies, there is a joint effort by stakeholders in the sector to collaborate with governments to design worldwide market-based measures for ensuring that emission standards are accounted for and players in the sector are not necessarily penalized for noncompliance at different levels of taxation (Timmis et al. 2014). Again, different stakeholders in the aviation sector are trying to minimize the environmental impact of aviation jointly, as described in the game theory. Most actions taken by the actors are outlined in the Aviation Climate Solutions Framework (Stage & Manning 2013).
This chapter has presented climate change as a concern in the aviation industry that needs to be addressed. It has also highlighted how elements of climate change continue to be a cause of concern for environmental experts, especially regarding the increase in greenhouse gases and carbon emissions that threaten the viability of existing ecosystems. The airline sector has strived to make some significant strides in reducing its impact, but this chapter shows that not enough research has been done to understand the impact of such efforts on climate change and whether there have even created the change they are supposed to.
Based on these gaps in the current literature, we need to find out the actions taken by stakeholders in the aviation industry to reduce its impact on climate change, investigate how climate change concerns affect operations in the aviation industry and find out how effective the aviation industry has been in reducing its environmental impact. To have a holistic overview of this research issue, we also need to investigate the challenges experienced by stakeholders in the aviation industry in reducing the carbon footprint of the sector and discuss additional steps the aviation industry can take to reduce its environmental impact. The fourth and fifth chapters of this report will delve into these issues. However, the next section outlines the research strategy.
There are two main research approaches – qualitative and quantitative (Grbich 2012; Hesse-Biber & Johnson 2015). The qualitative approach is often used in studies that seek to investigate subjective variables. Comparatively, the quantitative research approach is used in research studies that involve measurable variables (Ezzy 2013; Stacks 2016). Although these two research approaches are distinct, in this study, the researcher used a mixed-method research approach that includes the attributes of both qualitative and quantitative techniques. Thus, the choice of the mixed methods research approach is informed by the fact that the research topic included both qualitative and quantitative attributes. For example, the mixed methods research approach was selected because some challenges experienced by stakeholders in the aviation industry in their effort to comply with environmental laws are qualitative, while others are quantitative.
According to FRRC (2017), four main types of research designs could be used when the mixed methods research approach is used. They include the sequential explanatory design, sequential exploratory design, concurrent triangulation, and the concurrent nested technique (FRRC 2017). These designs are briefly explored below.
- Concurrent Nested Technique: The concurrent nested method usually involves the dominant use of one research approach (either qualitative or quantitative), as opposed to the equal use of both research approaches (Creswell 2014a). The use of the other method may only be limited to a supporting role because it is often left to address a different question other than the main one. The data obtained from the two levels of data collection are later merged during the data analysis process (FRRC 2017).
- Concurrent Triangulation: The concurrent triangulation technique is often used in situations where qualitative and quantitative research approaches are used separately, but concurrently (Creswell 2014b). The separate data collection methods are later merged during the data analysis stage. The difference between this research design and the others mentioned in this paper is that even though qualitative and quantitative methods are used separately, equal priority is given to both methods (Weil 2017).
- Sequential Exploratory Design: This research design gives priority to the collection of information using the qualitative research design first. Later, the quantitative research design follows. The findings are later integrated into the data analysis phase (Holloway & Galvin 2016; Webster 2012).
- Sequential Explanatory Design: This research design gives priority to the quantitative research approach, as opposed to the qualitative research design (Holloway & Galvin 2016). Thus, data is mainly collected using the quantitative research approach, and later, complementary information is added using the qualitative research approach. However, the process of data analysis involves an interpretation of both qualitative and quantitative data (Domínguez & Hollstein 2014).
Based on the similarities and differences between the four research designs mentioned above, the concurrent research design was the main research design used in this paper. It was selected because equal attention was given to both qualitative and quantitative research approaches during the data collection and data analysis processes.
Data Collection Method
Information was collected using secondary data. Secondary data analysis involves the collection of information that has already been published (Hsia 2015). The use of secondary data was informed by the difficulty of collecting research information using primary means. For example, it was not feasible to collect data by interviewing or having focus groups that would explore the full scope of the research. Indeed, as is evident from the scope of information highlighted in the first two chapters of this paper, this study covers a broad research area that cannot be effectively exhausted using primary data collection methods only (Stage & Manning 2013).
At the same time, it would have been difficult to get permission to get data about different airlines or non-governmental bodies that have information regarding the research topic. Thus, the secondary research method emerged as the most appropriate method for collecting data. This method of data collection was supported by the fact that most of the information collected using this technique had reliable rigor in research methodology (Hsia 2015).
For example, the researcher consulted different published materials from government agencies, independent environmental groups, and aviation bodies that have been developed through a rigorous process of data collection. Thus, the level of evaluation and expertise involved in analyzing this data may be superior to what the researcher would have done using the primary research method. These findings inform why the secondary research method emerged as the most appropriate data collection method.
Data was obtained from “Google scholar,” “SAGE database,” “Inder Science Online,” and “Emerald Insight.” The keywords used were “climate change,” “aviation industry,” “environmental” and “emissions.” The inclusion criterion was defined by the quality, reliability, and relevance of research materials. The researcher only included recent research materials that were published between 2012 to 2017.
The information used also had to be credible and reliable. Therefore, the researcher used books, journals, and credible websites as the main source of research materials. These materials also provided the researcher with official statistics and technical reports that were used in understanding the relationship between climate change and aviation. Overall, this search strategy yielded 81 research materials that were used in this study.
Part of the process involved in evaluating the quality of the information process included determining the original purpose of data collection for the reference articles to contextualize them appropriately and ascertain the credentials of the sources and authors of information. Additional steps taken to safeguard the validity and reliability of the information used included finding out the intended audience, investigating the coverage of the report or audience, ascertaining whether the report is a primary or secondary source, and establishing whether the articles are well referenced.
The main data analysis method employed in this study was the thematic analysis. According to Nyambi, Mangena & Pfukwa (2016), the thematic technique is “a method for identifying, analyzing and reporting patterns within data” (p. 79). This technique is mostly applicable in qualitative research methods, but current research shows that it is also widely accepted in mixed methods research frameworks (Grbich 2012). The researcher used six clear steps in this thematic analysis method to analyze the data. The six steps are as follows:
Step 1: Familiarization with the research data
The first step of the data analysis process involved familiarization with the research data. In this step, the researcher reviewed the relevant data to prepare for the coding process and the identification of recurring themes and patterns that would help answer the research question. At this stage, the researcher took notes of the main findings of the research process to pave the way for the second step of the data analysis process, which was the generation of the initial codes.
Step 2: Coding Process
As highlighted above, the second step of the data analysis process involved a generation of the initial codes of the research. The coding process was done manually where the researcher used a yellow marker to highlight important information that was useful in identifying recurring patterns in the data. The coding process happened systematically across all the data categories. At the same time, there was an effort to exhaust all potential themes and patterns that existed in the research materials, and that were directly related to the research questions asked. After the completion of this process, all the data that had similar codes were collated together.
Step 3: Searching for Themes
The third step of the data analysis process involved sorting out the codes used and aligning them with different thematic areas. Therefore, each theme would be comprised of a set of unique codes that would be beneficial in developing the main themes and subthemes. These elements of analysis were linked to the research questions.
Step 4: Reviewing the Themes
The process of reviewing the themes was the fourth step in the data analysis plan and it involved breaking some themes down into smaller ones, as well as merging other themes into bigger ones to answer the research question. There were two levels of analysis involved in this process. The first one was a review of the research information at the level of the coded data, while the second level involved reviewing the information at the thematic level of analysis.
Step 5: Defining and Naming the Themes
The process of defining and naming the themes occurred as the fifth step of the data analysis process. This stage helped to create an overall narrative of the associated data because each of the themes analyzed had its unique narrative. The analysis of the narrative was done to understand how it fits within the wider framework of answering the research questions. At the same time, the process of analyzing the themes involved a departure from using working titles to concrete thematic areas that helped to answer the research questions.
Step 6: Producing the Report
Producing the report was the last stage of the data analysis process. Considering this research is intended to fulfill academic goals, the report was prepared with the same purpose. There was also a deliberate effort made to explain how the research information linked to the research questions.
This chapter outlines the findings of the literature review process that was tailored to address the research aim, which was to find out the impact of climate change on the aviation industry. The findings of the secondary data analysis appear below.
The table below outlines the major themes that emerged in this study.
Table 4.1: Themes and Codes.
|1||Actions are taken by stakeholders in the aviation industry to reduce the industry’s impact on the climate|
|2||How climate change concerns have impacted operations in the aviation industry|
|3||Effectiveness of the aviation sector in reducing its environmental impact|
|4||Challenges that stakeholders in the aviation sector experience in reducing the environmental impact of the industry|
|5||Additional steps that stakeholders in the aviation industry could take to reduce its environmental impact|
The above-mentioned themes were derived from a thorough process of evaluating the research information to investigate how they answered the research questions. Several subthemes also emerged during the review, but the sections below outline the findings of the main themes.
Actions taken by Stakeholders in the Aviation Industry to Reduce the Industry’s Impact on the Climate
Stakeholders in the aviation sector recognize that the industry needs to make bold steps to reduce its global carbon footprint. Based on this realization, in 2008, they presented an action plan that would guide the sector in reducing its environmental impact (Gössling & Upham 2012). The framework was aimed at achieving three broad goals that included improving the fuel efficiency of aircraft in the next decade, stabilizing the emissions from the industry by adopting carbon-neutral operational policies, and reducing the carbon emissions by 50% to reach emission standards reported in the year 2005 (Clayton 2017).
This framework intends to deliver these goals by 2050. It was already publicized and observers have been tracking them to make periodic progress reports over the last couple of years. For example, regarding the first goal of creating 1.5% fuel efficiency in the sector by 2020, analysts report that the industry has surpassed the goal of 1.5% fuel efficiency and is currently reporting the same efficiency standards at 2.9% (Gössling & Upham 2012).
Regarding the second goal of stabilizing net aviation carbon emissions in the sector through the adoption of carbon-neutral measures, observers report that the industry is currently pushing for action at intergovernmental levels (Unger, Zhao & Dang 2013). Lastly, regarding the reduction in the industry’s net carbon emissions by 50% (as was the case in 2005), analysts report that the industry is currently financing significant research on how to do this (Gössling & Upham 2012).
Stakeholders are striving to achieve this goal through two main areas of action. They include the development of sustainable fuel alternatives and the development of unique aircraft and engine designs by manufacturers (Olsen, Wuebbles & Owen 2013). These strategies would enable the industry to achieve the aforementioned goal. Freestone (2012) also says stakeholders in the industry are striving to achieve the first and second goals through the adoption of new technology, the creation of efficient operations, better use of infrastructure (for the first goal), and the implementation of global market-based measures, as prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The table below summarizes these findings.
Table 4.2: Actions taken by the Aviation Industry.
|GOAL 1||GOAL 2||GOAL 3|
|Pre-2020 Ambition||In-line with the next UNFCCC commitment period||On the 20Cpathway|
|1.5% average annual fuel efficiency improvement from 2009-2020||Stabilize net aviation CO2 emissions at 2020 levels through carbon-neutral growth||Reduce aviation’s net CO2 emissions to 50% of what they were in 2005, by 2050|
|Currently tracking well above goal (2.9%), although the figure is expected to normalize||The industry is pushing for action at an intergovernmental level||Significant research is underway|
|HOW IS THE INDUSTRY ACHIEVING THIS?||HOW IS THE INDUSTRY ACHIEVING THIS?||HOW IS THE INDUSTRY ACHIEVING THIS?|
|Through action in the first three pillars: new technology, more efficient operations and better use of infrastructure||Through a full four-pillar strategy, including a global market-based measure at the International Civil Aviation Organisation||Through two main areas of action – development of sustainable alternative aviation fuels and research into future design concepts by aircraft and engine manufacturers|
The case studies below highlight some of the measures undertaken by multinational companies and organizations in the aviation sector to reduce their global emissions.
Case Study of British Airways
British Airways started a local initiative to curb its carbon emissions to 87.3 grams per passenger kilometer (Pashley 2016). This estimation is projected to be achieved by the year 2020 and it is a reduction in emissions from 94.5 grams per passenger kilometer, which is reported in 2015 (Pashley 2016). However, even if these reductions are achieved by the year 2020 (as projected); experts believe that BA’s performance will still be below the industry’s average (Pashley 2016). Such concerns stem from studies, which show that the airline burns 51% more fuel than the most efficient airline – Norwegian Air Shuttle (Pashley 2016).
As part of its effort to reduce its carbon footprint, BA is also investing in research to turn some household garbage into fuel. This is part of a wider scheme to increase the use of biofuels in its operational practices. The plan to do so is hinged on a strategy that has seen the company acquire a plant in East London that would see more than 80 lorries deposit household garbage into a plasma chamber that has a 5,000 cc (Pashley 2016). The gas that would be produced from this process would later be used as jet fuel. The company claims that the plant would also allow the company to generate more than 33 MW of electricity (Pashley 2016).
Although some people claim that such a strategy would not do much to change the economics of the airline’s operations, the company’s head of environment says the first step is always the most difficult one and if they are successful in implementing it, it would be able to build many more plants and decrease the airline’s dependency on fossil fuel.
Airlines for America (A4A)
A4A is an aviation coalition in the US that comprises nine airlines, including Alaska, Atlas Air, Federal Express Corporation, UPS, Southwest, Jetblue, United, Hawaiian, American, and one associate member – Air Canada (Airlines for American Coalition 2017). It has committed to a global framework for reducing the environmental impact of its members through a bigger umbrella initiative overseen by the United Nations and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Airlines for American Coalition 2017). The plan includes an aggressive set of measures to cut emissions by 1.5% in 2020 (Airlines for American Coalition 2017).
The coalition also plans to be carbon-neutral by the same year. To achieve these goals, the company is relying on investments in government infrastructure and technology. Through this strategy, the coalition has an ambitious target of reducing its members’ carbon emissions by 50% in 2050 (Airlines for American Coalition 2017). The diagram below outlines how the coalition plans for its members to achieve the set targets.
Challenges Experienced in the Progress towards reducing Emissions in the Aviation Industry
Rapid Increase in Emissions
Although the aviation industry has made tremendous gains in reducing its carbon footprint, the main challenge its stakeholders are facing is an increase in emissions that mostly comes from an increase in the demand for air transport (ATAG 2017). The intense growth of passenger and cargo business in developing countries is the main driver of this trend because people in these economies are starting to realize the benefits derived from this mode of transport (Randt et al. 2015). Mostly, connectivity advantages associated with air travel are fuelling the appetite for this mode of transport (Randt et al. 2015).
The growth in the tours and travel sector is also fuelling the demand for air transport in developing countries because, as the middle class grows, so is their appetite for air transport and their need to tour other parts of the world (ATAG 2017). Although the existing climate action framework is supposed to provide a balance between these economic demands and climate change concerns, striking a middle point has been elusive for stakeholders in the sector. Consequently, some observers suggest that partners in the aviation industry need to work with other stakeholders in the sector to achieve this goal because by doing so, they would be able to tame the challenge of increased emissions in this sector (Graf et al. 2012; Swain 2012).
Challenges to Decarbonising the Aviation Industry
Unlike other transport sectors, there are few options available to decarbonize the aviation industry. Furthermore, as the Aviation Environment Federation (2017) observes, there are even fewer commercially viable options for doing so. For example, biofuels, which have been touted as an alternative for fossil fuel are still sparingly used in the industry, with only 2.5% of the sector using it as a viable alternative to fossil fuel (Aviation Environment Federation 2017). One challenge to the use of biofuels is the limited availability of sustainable biofuels to be used in the sector. Another challenge associated with the use of the fuel is the inability to effectively use it in other economic sectors.
Effectiveness of the Aviation Sector in Reducing its Environmental Impact
Most of the literature sampled in this study showed that there have been significant gains made in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the aviation sector (World Meteorological Organisation 2016). Most of these gains have been made through the reduction in fossil fuel consumption by modern aircraft. Statistics show that these gains have been within the range of 15% to 20% range (Skowron, Lee & De León 2013). Although there have been some efforts by the sector to reduce its environmental impact through the reorganization of its processes, most of these developments have not had a significant impact on reducing the volume of emissions coming from the sector.
Although the above-mentioned developments have characterized efforts made by stakeholders in the aviation sector to reduce their environmental impact, a huge body of evidence also shows that these gains have been significantly negated by an increase in emissions coming from the sector (World Meteorological Organisation 2016; Weiqiang 2017; Wolfe et al. 2014). This finding shows that the sector is being held back by the increase in demand for air transport services (Skowron, Lee & De León 2013).
Therefore, while it may be true that there have been some gains made in the reduction in emissions from this industry, the industry has not been effective in reducing its environmental impact because it is being held back by an increase in emission coming from an increase in air travel services. Most of the growth in emissions from the airline industry has been driven by the growth in the low-cost airline sector, which accounts for up to one-quarter of the total global airline market today (Weiqiang 2017).
How Climate Change Concerns have Impacted Operations in the Aviation Sector
Most of the literature sampled in this study showed climate change has caused increased innovation in aircraft manufacturing operations (Gössling & Upham 2012). Aircraft engine manufacturers have concentrated their innovation processes on developing more fuel-efficient engines and designing lighter and aerodynamic aircraft (Schmidt et al. 2015). The goal has been to develop aircraft that use less fuel (Schmidt et al. 2015).
This strategy has been partly supported by the provision of certification standards that stakeholders in the airline industry can get because of their efforts to integrate fuel-efficiency in their aircraft development technologies and aircraft designs (Weiqiang 2017). This strategy is part of a broad-based set of actions meant to reduce the environmental impact of the industry, as other methods include the adoption of biofuels and market-based interventions (Gössling & Upham 2012; World Meteorological Organisation 2016)).
Part of the innovation pursued by some players in the sector has also spilled over into finding alternative sources of fuel. The use of biofuels is more apparent in this case because there is evidence that there have been a lot of testing procedures done at different levels of research in this industry (Gössling & Upham 2012; World Meteorological Organisation 2016).
Although we have seen that the aviation industry has tried to make significant gains in the reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to also point out the weaknesses associated with the approach of associated stakeholders because they have failed to tame the spiraling effects of the industry on the environment. One possible area of analysis that could explain the failure of the industry to address its environmental challenges is the attitude of industry stakeholders to climate change.
Attitude of Industry Stakeholders to Climate Change
Although stakeholders in the aviation sector have largely presented themselves as champions of environmental sustainability, the researcher finds that most of their assertions could largely be mere rhetoric. For example, there are claims made by proponents of the industry to justify their advocacy of the environment, but they are difficult to substantiate. For example, stakeholders in the sector have consistently claimed that they have realized fuel efficiency gains of up to 20% in the last decade (Schumann & Graf 2013), but it remains unclear from which numbers these claims are made. In the past, such figures were compared with the best and worst-performing airline companies in the industry, while alternative measurements were based on yearly savings in fuel efficiency numbers (Melcher 2016).
While the claim that aircraft have been more fuel-efficient overtime may be true, it is equally important to point out that such progress may not be impressive, given that such gains are dismal, relative to achievements realized in the past five decades, or more. A deeper analysis of this fact shows that most of the efficiency gains boasted by some proponents of the aviation industry may not be significant because most of these gains were achieved in the early years of aircraft development (Jacobson et al. 2013). Thus, efficiency gains reported today could be far lower than the gains made in the past. Furthermore, it may take longer to develop new aircrafts today compared to the past; thereby increasing the period older aircraft are in service.
Overall, from the analysis made in this paper, we could argue that aircraft manufacturers and airline companies are making a discourse on arguments that stand to protect the environment, but they are not pointing out the fact that emissions from the sector are increasing. The discourse on a carbon-neutral future and an emissions-free environment remains a mirage for many players in the industry because such claims cannot be substantiated.
There is little evidence we have found in this paper that could effectively explain how this goal can be achieved. It is from these unsubstantiated arguments that we find it difficult to fully understand how the aviation sector intends to actualize some of its claims. For example, it is difficult to understand how the industry intends to manufacture biofuel-powered aircraft and make them work in a way that would meet the current demand for airline services. Indeed, it is not difficult to deduce that the amount of power or energy that would be needed to lift a fully loaded aircraft off the ground would surpass the kind of energy provided by alternative fuels. It is for these reasons that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) fails to provide a roadmap that would holistically explain how the aviation industry intends to realize some of these goals (ICAO 2013a).
Based on this admission, it may be that the IATA still intends to rely on using voluntary emission reduction strategies that are being adopted, but even as this may yield some dismal gains, it is difficult to understand how they would offset the increase in emissions that we have reported from the surge in demand for airline services. Therefore, it is difficult to holistically rely on the current measures being taken by the aviation industry to compensate for current emissions reported in the sector.
An investigation of the policy changes undertaken by stakeholders in the aviation sector also does not inspire confidence in the sector’s environmental performance because they have a counterproductive effect on the reduction of emissions. This is true for some of the policy changes undertaken by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO 2013b). A deeper analysis of this issue shows that the national control of emissions is often governed by international climate change declarations, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement (Milman 2016). However, the control of emissions from the aviation sector is not governed by such declarations because this responsibility is left to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO 2013b).
Instead of doing so, this organization has been engaged in endless negotiations that have seen it try to protect aviation companies from being subjected to the same environmental standards as other companies. For example, in 2004, it opposed the idea of having a worldwide emissions trading scheme (ETS) (Milman 2016). Instead, it supported the idea of subjecting aviation companies to national emission trading schemes. This idea has been proposed as an alternative to the imposition of taxes for some of its inputs, such as fuel, which are known to be the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions (World Meteorological Organisation 2016).
In 2007, the same organization voted to protect airlines from regional environmental bodies, such as the European Emissions Trading Scheme (Milman 2016). Based on these contradicting attempts at reducing the environmental impact of the aviation industry on the environment, the International Civil Aviation Organisation emerges as an insincere organization and an obstacle to making sure airlines comply with emission standards. Such concerns have increased fears that it would be difficult to realize significant gains in reducing emission levels within this industry, especially after realizing that it could be difficult to formulate an emissions framework that airlines would follow (Kelman et al. 2015).
An honest analysis of the gains made by the aviation sector seems not to arise from attempts by stakeholders in the sector, and more specifically the actions of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and instead appear as outcomes from economic bottom-line improvements. Stated differently, these economic bottom-line improvements have occurred in situations where cost-cutting measures have coincided with environmental gains. Based on this assertion, it is difficult to identify situations where only environmental gains have been made and no economic gains realized.
Given that the window to address the environmental impact of the aviation industry on the sector is slowly closing and the attitude among stakeholders in the sector remains fixated on making a profit, it is difficult to see how the industry would achieve significant reductions in reducing its carbon emissions. Based on these assertions, there is a need to develop a consensus among aviation companies, their customers, the government and other stakeholders to reduce the industry’s global carbon emissions.
Although this study has identified weaknesses in this strategy, it is possible to still realize the dream of a carbon-neutral industry if there is a shift in attitudes regarding the seriousness of the matter. Governments should also be serious in making sure that airlines do not get preferential treatment when it comes to compliance with existing laws. Complementing this goal should be an increased sense of awareness regarding the potential for sociotechnical systems to plug into existing systems and enhance the effort of airline companies to reduce their emission standards.
Based on the aforementioned issues, we find that stakeholders in the aviation industry and environmentalists are faced with one dilemma – approve a climate policy that would guide operations in the aviation industry or continue with things as they are. Using the game theory, we would characterize the dilemma as a clash between coordination and defection forces. Other options could be included in the same model, but they would only yield dismal emission or cost gains. This model could simply be explained within the understanding that protecting the environment seems to be more costly for the aviation sector compared to using the earth’s resources for maximum profit generation. None of these positions give a sense of confidence that the environment would be protected, especially in a world where airlines are competing for increased productivity.
The findings of this paper show that climate change is a serious concern today because there have been many changes occurring in weather patterns and climatic conditions that threaten our very existence. Based on this concern, the researcher has emphasized the need to understand the main causes of climate change and mitigate them. The aviation sector has been of particular interest in this study because it is among the most rapidly growing sectors of the global economy and the most unexplored and unregulated ones, relative to its contribution to climate change.
Evidence from this paper shows that although the industry has made gains in reducing its environmental impact, they are not enough to mitigate its impact on climate change. The main reason for the ineffectiveness of the industry in achieving its goals is the increase in air travel demand that has stemmed from a rise in the middle class across major economies of the developing world.
While such developments should be a wakeup call to stakeholders in the industry to do more in addressing the growing environmental impact of the industry, there has been a sense of a lack of sincerity and deliberate efforts to make sure players in the sector are exempted from complying with environmental laws and emissions standards. The EU has made a commendable step in reigning in on such errand actors, but more needs to be done to realize a holistic approach to addressing climate change concerns.
The poor attitude that stakeholders in the aviation sector have towards controlling their emission levels and the delicate balance that needs to be achieved in catering to environmental issues and economic gains present a big problem in creating realistic and sustainable changes in this sector. However, the adoption of the recommendations outlined below could mark a positive step towards changing this situation.
Improved Technology and the use of Alternative Fuels: Although this study has demonstrated that technological change has partly driven efforts by the aviation sector to reduce its global emissions, studies have shown that there have been insignificant gains made from the pursuit of this strategy. Going forward, the aviation industry has to revamp this strategy and make it more aggressive in reducing carbon emissions in the long run. The use of biofuels has been touted as a viable alternative source of fuel to power the aviation industry. Although it has been paltrily used in the sector, there has not been significant progress made in reducing carbon emissions.
More efforts could be made to change this situation by taking advantage of some of the legal opportunities available to improve the use of alternative fuels in the industry. For example, the EU emissions system has zero-rated the use of biofuels in the aviation sector, thereby providing cost advantages to companies that want to use this type of fuel as an alternative to fossil fuel (Gössling & Upham 2012). Such opportunities should be exploited.
However, since the use of biofuels poses different challenges to the aviation sector, it can be used only if a few criteria are met. One of them is that there should be a proper mechanism for accounting for emissions. Secondly, there must proper accountability procedures to establish that the net emissions generated from the use of this type of fuel are lower than fossil fuel emissions. Lastly, the appraisals associated with the use of alternative fuel should also include reports that capture land-use changes.
Infrastructure Improvements: Infrastructure improvements in the aviation sector could tremendously improve carbon emissions because they would plug into the overall goal of making aircraft operations leaner and more efficient. For example, modernizing the aircraft management system could significantly improve the infrastructure of the aviation sector, thereby making it more responsive to market needs and hence less demanding on the environment and less reliant on fossil fuels.
Capping Emissions in the Aviation Sector: Capping emissions in the aviation sector could significantly improve its environmental record of accomplishment by providing a legal solution to the problem of increased emissions. A set standard should be agreed on by all stakeholders in the sector to cap the emissions in the industry. Consequently, players in the sector would be allowed to use whichever method they want to maintain emissions below the set limit. This means that the industry could enhance its efficiency strategy, improve its operations, and expand its infrastructure to achieve this goal. If such measures are inadequate, they could use market-based measures, which is a relatively unexplored area of emissions reduction that could yield significant environmental gains for the industry. Nonetheless, the agreement to cap emissions should be formulated within the framework of the game theory, which presupposes that those who fail to comply should be punished.
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