Airline industry in denial about vapour trails effects on climate

airline industry

The airline industry in the UK has pushed back against measures intended to curb the negative effect vapour trails have on the climate, saying the evidence is not there to support them.

Aviation chiefs have rejected research suggesting the contrails formed when water vapour and soot particles form into ice crystals have a large impact on the climate, saying the research is not “robust” enough.

An EU study in 2020 stated that non-CO2 aircraft emissions, comprised mainly of contrails, warm the planet about twice as much as the carbon dioxide released by planes. Although it did carry a caveat that there were “significant uncertainties”.

Airlines UK said the science around [non-CO2 impacts] “is not yet robust enough to form reduction targets”.

Sustainable Aviation said it was too early for regulation.

“Given the complexity of non-CO2 impacts, developing science and a wide range of impacts, we do not believe that non-CO2 emissions should be included in consumer-facing information,” the organisation stated.

“UK aviation recognises that non-CO2 impacts need to be better understood and tackled, and supports further research. This is why we welcomed the inclusion of non-CO2 monitoring solutions in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme [and] why trials of aircraft powered by sustainable aviation fuels will include monitoring of non-CO2 benefits.”

Piers Forster, professor of climate physics at Leeds University and a member of the Climate Change Committee, said the industry “should not hide behind uncertainty”.

“[It] needs to act to rapidly reduce both its CO2 and non-CO2 effects,” he told The Guardian.