Every globetrotter wonders: will sustainable flying ever be possible? Some claim that you can completely offset your CO² emissions, others argue that the biofuel aircraft will not be around for long. But is it?
There are many things you can do in your daily life to become greener: you can stop eating meat, buy an electric car, cycle more, insulate your home: you name it. These are all things that do not make you compromise on the ultimate goal: eating, driving, living. But what is the sustainable alternative to flying? Sailing, rowing, swimming: none of these are widely accepted alternatives, and few want to leave faraway destinations off the menu for good.
Last year, 29,000 passenger planes flew worldwide and today the tourism sector accounts for 10% of global CO2 emissions. Aviation takes up half of that. We fly more and further, while other sectors are becoming more sustainable. As a result, the tourism sector's share in global CO2 emissions is constantly increasing. This is not going to get any better, as the UN estimates that emissions from the tourism sector will increase by 135% by 2035 compared to 2005.
Flying sustainably on biofuel?
What the sector hopes for most is the possibility of short- and long-haul flights using biofuel instead of kerosene. But here, too, scientists are frowning. Biofuel can cause the emissions of a flight to be indirectly higher. Nature will have to make way for the cultivation of energy crops in order to produce biofuel. The solution for this would be biofuel from algae, but this is still expensive at the moment. When CO2 emissions are taxed more heavily, a time may come when biofuel from algae will be preferred.
An additional problem is that kerosene has a higher energy density than biofuel. You therefore have to carry more fuel and cannot fly as far. According to the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is more difficult for aviation to switch to alternative fuels than for other sectors. It goes without saying: a switch to biofuel requires new technology and new aircraft, and it costs a lot of money.
Because a switch to biofuel will not happen immediately, airline companies are now coming up with 'the next best thing': compensating your CO2 emissions. Many airline companies promise, for example, to plant enough trees to compensate your CO2 emissions. Another airline promises to protect a few acres of primeval forest, and another invests your money in renewable energy. But can a flight really be compensated? Scientists say not.
If you are reading this story, then you are probably concerned about the impact of popular air travel on our planet.That's great, but here's the confronting thing: those who are aware of the climate problem are not always willing to change their travel behaviour. In fact, those who are concerned about the climate are often very active travellers.
According to Stefan Gössling (Lund University), who is researching the relationship between tourism and sustainability, emissions from aviation should be limited and emissions trading should remain within aviation itself. If this scenario is followed, you will see the price of an average flight rise rapidly, as supply will fall sharply. According to Gössling, in future we will have to think more carefully about where we go and how long we stay there. "You can no longer go on a bachelor weekend to Edinburgh for 20 euros. That is a reality that we conveniently ignore."