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Aeroplanes release large amounts of greenhouse gases warming the climate, and it is not yet possible to fly in a completely sustainable way. However, we can do our best to minimize the damage done for the times that we do have to fly. We can also contribute to the solutions that help remove carbon already emitted, and help reach global climate targets.

One thing that can be done today is to choose flights with lower emissions. For example, taking a direct flight instead of one with a stop-over reduces CO2 emissions and the overall climate effect of the flight, sometimes by as much as 30%. You can also choose an airline with more fuel-efficient planes.

The future of sustainable aviation

In a few decades, all planes might run on either fossil-free fuels or be electric. Electric flights will be limited to shorter distances since batteries needed for long flights would take up too much space and make the plane too heavy. The fossil-free liquid fuels can be biobased, using, for example, forest residues. They can also be synthetic, and made from CO2 captured from the air.

Several companies are working on commercializing sustainable jet fuel. Biofuels are available today, and some airlines offer you to pay extra for fossil-free fuel to be used to cover your journey. That doesn’t mean that the airline fills the actual plane that you are travelling with fossil-free fuels, but it does mean that an extra amount is purchased by the airline and used somewhere in its operation, pushing out the use of the same amount of fossil fuels. So far, fossil-free fuels are expensive, and this service often costs as much as an airline ticket. The cost of fossil-free fuel will fall dramatically, but might never become as cheap as today’s prices for oil-based jet fuel.  

What you can do to achieve a more sustainable air travel

One popular activity has been to try to offset the climate damage done by flying by purchasing carbon credits. That involves paying for a project that reduces or removes CO2 from the atmosphere. However, most carbon credits focused on avoiding emissions historically used have been shown to be ineffective, not representing the benefits for the climate that they promise.

Using technological solutions to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere and durably store it is another option. Examples include Direct air capture, where CO2 in the air is captured in a medium like a filter, and the CO2 is then separated for storage. Another example is biochar, where crop or forest residues are heated up to very high temperatures, creating a carbon-rich char that can be put into soils, storing the carbon for hundreds of years.  

Carbon removal is a must for reaching global climate targets, and a whole new industry is just getting started. Some companies removing carbon are offering individuals to purchase carbon removal credits, enabling the CO2 to be removed. So far, very little high-quality carbon removal is available to purchase, and supporting the removal companies most often means making prepurchases of carbon to be removed in coming years. This type of early support is crucial for the sector to be able to grow. 

An example of a way to support carbon removal as well as other climate solutions needed to reach global net zero is to donate to The Milkywire Climate Transformation Fund. Milkywire tries to find the projects that will create the most positive long-term climate impact within carbon removal, nature restoration & protection, and decarbonization.

How much to give is another question, one way of calculating a contribution is to contribute with a credible carbon price of at least 100 USD per ton CO2e your flight emits.

In summary, when you need to fly, try to choose the most sustainable flights, and consider giving financial support to climate solutions to help mitigate some of the harm flying causes.

About the author


Robert Höglund is an advisor working with carbon removal and climate policy. He manages the Milkywire climate transformation fund and sits on the board of Mistra sustainable consumption. He previously headed Oxfam Sweden’s policy and communications team and took part in the Science-based Target Initiatives’ Net-zero expert advisory group.

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