Aviation: Up in the sky for a better climate

Around the world, people fly more – but emissions need to decrease. Sweden is trying to find a solution, with fossil free aviation.

By 2050, aviation is to halve its climate emissions compared to 2005, and from 2020 carbon emissions are to be stabilized. That is both very aggressive and not nearly enough. Aggressive, because aviation is growing so quickly and solutions that are available in other transport sectors, such as electrification, are still at least several years off in aviation. Not good enough, since the global United Nations Paris agreement stipulates that the world must reduce climate impacting emissions so that the two degree temperature increase threshold will not be breached, and aviation’s target is in this sense part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In Sweden, as has been repeatedly reported by the 2030-secretariat for a fossil independent transport sector, the new climate legislation stipulates that the transport sector is to reduce its climate impacting emissions by 70 percent between 2010 and 2030. What is less known is that aviation is not formally part of the target – but once it, and the independent secretariat,
were launched, Swedavia raised its hand and insisted on being included in the target. Thus, the national agency responsible for all the major airports of Sweden, launched the target of 100 percent fossil free domestic aviation by 2030. And Swedavia has a track record; the target of fossil free transports on the ground was practically reached already in 2017. Since 2016, Swedavia buys biofuel each year corresponding to the fuel consumed by its employees
on some 10,000 annual flights for business purposes.

But the aviation agency cannot deliver on the targets on its own, it needs policy support. In Sweden, there is currently a heated discussion about whether or not the tax on aviation, introduced on April the 1 st this year, will be helpful towards reaching that target, and the 2030-secretariat is doubtful. “Obviously, aviation must pay for the damage it causes to the
climate and environment, just like any other transport mode, but a tax equal for all planes is not the best way to encourage the airlines to move to more efficient planes and greener fuels”, says Mattias Goldmann of the 2030-secretariat. “For passenger cars, it has long been obvious that an efficient electric car and a gas-guzzling SUV should not have the same tax,
and aviation should be no different,”

However, there is more of a consensus on the next step for greener, more sustainale aviation. Government and opposition agree that sustainable biofuels are part of the equation; continuing with fossil fueled airplanes is clearly not sustainable. Airlines like BRA have started to offer passengers to chip in to ensure that the equivalent of their flights are covered by renewable fuels, using agricultural waste, used cooking oil and other leftover products – and those bonus points collected can now be turned into a more sustainable flight. Across the border in Norway, Swedavia’s equivalent Avinor even predicts that by 2040, domestic aviation will have become electrified; something that was hardly even science fiction just a decade ago.

– Sweden and Norway only accounts for tens of a single percent of global carbon emissions, so the way we can make a difference is by showing the way forward, and it is inspiring to see how many visits from around the world Sweden and Norway are now getting as a result of our tough targets for fossil free aviation, says Mattias Goldmann, himself responsible for a
South African delegation visiting Sweden and the Arlanda airport in conjunction with the UN climate meeting in Durban – just one of many examples of how it may pay off for a small country to be a leader in an area where everyone is about to head in the same direction. Like greening the aviation sector.

Mattias Goldmann
CEO of Green and Liberal Think Tank Fores