Thomas Power, founder of sustainable holiday company, Pura Aventura, tackles the matter of sustainable travel – in particular, dialling into aviation and what can be done to reduce the environmental impact of flying.
Aviation and greenhouse gases
It is estimated that aviation is responsible for up to eight per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases each year. And the real worry is that this figure will only grow unless a realistic industry decarbonisation pathway is implemented. Without one, it is thought that flying will contribute to 20 per cent of the earth’s total carbon emissions by 2050.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)
“But the UK government’s Jet Zero plans have put us on a course for net zero aviation”, I hear you say. “Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) will get the industry out of trouble”. I hate to break it to you, but not according to the independent Climate Action Tracker group – it describes current measures in place from airlines as “critically insufficient”.
The trouble is that the industry doesn’t have the means to produce enough SAF. The world’s biggest SAF refinery produces 1.3 million tonnes each year. This will increase to 2.6 million tonnes next year – but while this might seem impressive, it’s only enough to keep global aviation aloft for a mere three days. Only another 362 days’ supply of SAF needed and we’ll be at Net Zero.
SAF is made from certain wastes and put simply, there isn’t enough of these wastes in the world. No matter, you can also make SAF with certain plants so just bung enough trees in the ground and the problem goes away. But you’d have to plant oil palms over more or less the entirety of the planet’s landmass…
According to experts, the best guess is that 5 percent of aviation can be fully powered by SAF in 2030. This casts doubt on the claims made by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), that 65 per cent of all fuels will be SAF by 2050.
So, should we all simply give up and hide under a rock and commit to never flying again? As someone who loves to travel and has family spread out all over the world, I know this isn’t an option. .
Instead, we need to acknowledge that SAF is only part of the solution for sustainable aviation.
Technological innovations will play a part – especially related to energy production and storage. It was impressive to see easyJet diverting its carbon-offsetting funds towards long-term technological solutions. If only more of the major airlines made similar pledges.
E-fuels hold great potential – although it currently takes more energy to produce them than they generate. Having said this, considering the latest advancements with nuclear fusion, unlimited renewable energy generation might not be all that far away.
Electric aviation is on its way too. Private aviation is likely to kickstart this trend – before it progresses to short-haul and regional flights. But it’ll likely be 2050 at the earliest for this technology to be delivered at scale. Governments should at least be taxing aviation fuel – that it remains completely untaxed is madness.
The Here and Now
So, what should the average flyer do now?
Of course, a simple step is to fly less. Take a train when possible. Consider taking fewer, but hopefully longer holidays to minimise your hours in the sky.
And mitigation measures have an important role to play. I’m talking about offsetting. It has become a bit of a dirty word recently, but there are fantastic projects out there. The worthwhile initiatives focus on extraction – getting carbon out of the atmosphere. This can be leveraged biologically, with trees or sea grass, or mechanically – think of a big carbon vacuum burying it inside bedrock.
The best travel companies will select the best mitigation projects. Travellers should not be afraid to challenge them on this. Companies like ours which give 1 percent of their revenue back to the plant in the form of environmental donations are leading the way.
A final word
No single company or individual can change the world without support. But if every person and every travel company make a change, we can pave a way for a more sustainable future for our planet. We cannot rely on SAF to solve all our worries related to aviation, and technological innovations are unlikely to present results immediately, so the world’s response must be a behavioural one too.