Chris Preist calculates the scale of the carbon challenge, John Chapman calls for urgent regulation, Kim Hoare says we cannot carry on taking flights as and when we wish and Michael Miller says flying is unavoidably energy-intensive
The aviation industry (Letters, 29 June) says innovation will allow continued growth in a zero-carbon world. It may be right, but it needs to provide more than PR proof points as evidence. The industry’s long-term plans predict 3% annual growth and estimates an annual efficiency improvement of 1.5% from design and operations. It proposes the use of biofuels and other low-emissions technology to cover the rest.
In the spirit of the late David MacKay, it is straightforward to carry out a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what this would need. At current productivity levels of biofuels, this would require a land area of over six times that of the UK, or most of Indonesia, to supply aviation in a net-zero 2050. The scale of the challenge is immense, and all industry sectors must innovate to rapidly decarbonise. But they should not simply assume that success will allow growth to continue unchecked. Each sector should provide a detailed, quantified and open decarbonisation plan for assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and be honest about the risks to their business. If they can’t innovate to decarbonise in line with IPCC requirements while respecting other planetary boundaries (such as wildlife habitat preservation), they will need to diversify or contract.