Flight Decisions Matter for Climate Change
This article was published in The Jakarta Post on May 16, 2019.
The Indonesian aviation industry is thriving. In 2017, the number of air passengers in Indonesia was estimated at 110 million, with a US$1.3 billion market size. Despite concerns about safety issues and high airfares, the aviation industry will likely expand rapidly. The International Air Transport Association has predicted Indonesian airlines will carry 355 million domestic passengers in 2036.
As with most other means of transportation, flying necessitates the burning of fossil fuel. Most forms of aviation release not only carbon dioxide, but other greenhouse gases such as water vapor and nitrogen oxide, contributing to global warming. With more Indonesians flying than ever, what can be done nationally to limit the environmental impact of the aviation industry?
For many of us who fly regularly, airline travel is one of the largest contributors to our individual carbon footprint. WRI Indonesia recently calculated that air travel accounted for an average of 80 percent to our annual individual carbon emission from work-related mobility.
Consider the following: with only a round-trip economy ticket from Jakarta to Manokwari in West Papua, 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted. This is more than one-third of the average annual carbon footprint of an Indonesian, which only amounts to 2.03 tons of carbon dioxide.
If you fly business, your carbon footprint is significantly higher because business class seats take up more space, thus increasing the amount of fuel used per passenger. According to a 2013 World Bank study, flying business class and first class increase your carbon footprint by three-times and nine-times compared to flying economy.
Studies suggest travelers can reduce their carbon footprint by consciously choosing more carbon-efficient flying options. Flying direct, for example, is more carbon-efficient than taking connecting flights, partly because aircraft burn the most fuel during takeoff.
Additionally, travelers may also choose to fly on new generation aircraft, such as 787-9s A350-900s, and A319s, with sharklets that are more carbon-efficient and cost-optimized.
Of course, we can always consider not to fly for out-of-town meetings when virtual communication methods would suffice or when other transportation means that are more carbon-efficient are available.
Travelers should also consider carbon offsetting, such as supporting tree-planting and clean energy projects to make up for putting carbon into the atmosphere.
WRI Indonesia recently calculated our own annual carbon emission from various sources, ranging from office electricity to employees’ short and long-distance mobility. Unsurprisingly, our carbon footprint only from airline travel stood at 245 tons in 2018. To offset this, we would need to plant at least 550 mango trees, as each can absorb 0.4 tons of carbon dioxide per year once it reaches maturity.
Individuals or organizations may also choose to offset by paying credible offset companies. The offset schemes offered by these companies vary widely in terms of the cost, although a typical fee would be around $2.30 for each ton of carbon dioxide offset.
Critics often argue carbon offsetting only makes travelers feel good and may serve as disincentives from working to reduce emissions in the long run. However, it’s better than doing nothing.
The entire aviation industry is getting greener, albeit slowly. Under an international agreement developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, by 2021 airlines that fly internationally will have to offset any extra emissions under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation.
Airlines can do so much more to reduce their carbon footprint besides rejuvenating their fleet. In its environmental performance report, Garuda Indonesia outlines its strategy to achieve efficient on-the-ground and airborne aircraft operations to conserve fuel and reduce emissions.
Meanwhile, AirAsia discusses ways to minimize aircraft load so as to reduce fuel consumption in its annual report, for example by replacing the heavy manuals and flight documents with tablets and using thinner paint for its liveries.
Indonesian fliers and airlines, along with the government’s provision of incentives and safety nets for innovation, have a shared responsibility to make the aviation sector a little bit greener. After all, collectively, each of our personal decision matters.