Atmospheric science
Aviation industry

Flying into the future: aviation's climate challenge


Nov 13, 2023


11:00 - 12:15

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Flying into the future: aviation's climate challenge

Aviation impacts on climate

Aviation is representing approximately 3.5% of the total current radiative impact on climate, despite being responsible for only 2.4% of global annual emissions of CO2. The recent COVID-19 pandemic had a small climate effect and is projected to only delay aviation’s contribution to warming. Aviation is also responsible for non-CO2 emissions, one of the main concerns over aviation’s effects on climate. These emissions affect atmospheric composition and change cloudiness, which in turn affects the radiative balance of the atmosphere. The largest non-CO2 effects from aviation on climate are the formation of contrail cirrus and the effects on atmospheric chemistry from NOx emissions. The net non-CO2 effects represent approximately 2/3 of the total aviation forcing to date, but their future contribution might change.

Agnieszka Skowron
Dr. Agnieszka Skowron

Research associate at Manchester Metropolitan University

Agnieszka Skowron is a research associate at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research interests primarily concentrate on investigations of global and regional effects of nitrogen oxides emissions from aviation on climate and the existing trade-offs between different aviation effects. She is a member of the Impact and Science Group at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Covid, contrails and climate change

Unlike greenhouse gases, contrails (line shaped clouds formed by aircraft) are an easily visible human-driven warming of the climate system. The total magnitude of the warming from contrails is highly uncertain, but is approximately equal to the warming from all greenhouse gases emitted from every aircraft since the dawn of flight. 

The shutdown in aviation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and new satellite data provide a unique opportunity to measure the warming impact of aviation on the climate. From tracking the impact of individual aircraft to observing large scale changes in cloud, satellites find large impacts of aviation on clouds and show us which types of aircraft have particularly large warming impacts on the climate. With a wide range of initial conditions, contrails can also give us an insight into the impact of aerosol perturbations on natural cirrus clouds.

Edward Gryspeerdt
Dr. Edward Gryspeerdt

Royal Society University Research Fellow at Imperial College London

Edward Gryspeerdt is a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, where he arrived in 2017 after working at the Universities of Leipzig and Oxford. His groups research focusses on the response of clouds to human activity, particularly the impact of atmospheric aerosols.

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