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Managing New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions from aviation

  • Callister & Associates

Abstract and Figures

Prior to Covid, the global aviation industry was undergoing a period of unprecedented growth and was predicted to continue growing rapidly for at least the next three decades. But the emissions growth associated with this forecast traffic growth was incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Therefore, many industry groups, governments, and NGOs have been preparing net zero 2050 pathways for aviation. One sign of this increased activity is the 'International Aviation Climate Ambition' group formed at Glasgow in 2021, whose members, including New Zealand, have committed to preparing 'ambitious and concrete' plans this year to reduce aviation emissions. New Zealand has particularly high aviation emissions, both per capita and as a proportion of all carbon dioxide emissions, and proven ability to increase them rapidly. New Zealand has the experience of an almost complete halt to international aviation during Covid. We survey recent developments in this area with particular reference to New Zealand, finding that aviation pathways with very high proportions of sustainable aviation fuel are unrealistic, even more so when combined with high traffic growth. Therefore, the main other thing that affects emissions-the amount of flying, and the factors that determine it-is examined closely. We conclude that a national action plan should include consideration of the "avoid, shift, improve" framework; emissions pricing and the "polluter pays" principle; regulation of emissions and emissions intensity; the non-CO 2 effects of aviation; the distribution of flying; the availability of substitutes, and the national strategies for those substitutes; coordination with the tourist industry; the rate of growth or degrowth; the role of airports; timely implementation; emphasis on proven technologies; the lifecycle emissions and resource requirements of sustainable aviation fuels; a fair share for aviation emissions with reference to the whole population and economy; and the transition to true sustainability respecting the rights of future generations.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Managing New Zealand’s
greenhouse gas emissions
from aviation
Robert I McLachlan and Paul Callister
Working Paper 22/01
The role of local governance in
governing for intergenerational
Peter Hodder and Girol Karacaoglu
Working Paper 21/20
January 2022
Robert I McLachlan and Paul Callister
School of Government
Victoria University of Wellington
PO Box 600
Wellington 6140
New Zealand
For any queries relating to this working
paper, please contact
The views, opinions, findings, and
conclusions or recommendations
expressed in this paper are strictly those of
the authors. They do not necessarily
reflect the views of the Institute for
Governance and Policy Studies, the School
of Government or Victoria University of
Managing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions from
Robert I McLachlanPaul Callister
18 March 2022
Prior to Covid, the global aviation industry was undergoing a period of unprece-
dented growth and was predicted to continue growing rapidly for at least the next
three decades. But the emissions growth associated with this forecast traffic growth
was incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Therefore,
many industry groups, governments, and NGOs have been preparing net zero 2050
pathways for aviation. One sign of this increased activity is the ‘International Avia-
tion Climate Ambition’ group formed at Glasgow in 2021, whose members, including
New Zealand, have committed to preparing ‘ambitious and concrete’ plans this year to
reduce aviation emissions.
New Zealand has particularly high aviation emissions, both per capita and as a
proportion of all carbon dioxide emissions, and proven ability to increase them rapidly.
New Zealand has the experience of an almost complete halt to international aviation
during Covid.
We survey recent developments in this area with particular reference to New Zealand,
finding that aviation pathways with very high proportions of sustainable aviation fuel
are unrealistic, even more so when combined with high traffic growth.
Therefore, the main other thing that affects emissions—the amount of flying, and
the factors that determine it—is examined closely.
We conclude that a national action plan should include consideration of the “avoid,
shift, improve” framework; emissions pricing and the “polluter pays” principle; regu-
lation of emissions and emissions intensity; the non-CO2effects of aviation; the dis-
tribution of flying; the availability of substitutes, and the national strategies for those
substitutes; coordination with the tourist industry; the rate of growth or degrowth; the
role of airports; timely implementation; emphasis on proven technologies; the lifecycle
emissions and resource requirements of sustainable aviation fuels; a fair share for avia-
tion emissions with reference to the whole population and economy; and the transition
to true sustainability respecting the rights of future generations.
School of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, Massey University, New Zealand
Institute of Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
1 New Zealand’s commitment within the COP26 ‘aviation ambition’ group 5
2 New Zealand’s aviation emissions 7
3 The Paris Agreement and the Zero Carbon Act 10
4 New technology 11
4.1 Incremental improvements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
4.2 “Zero-emission” aircraft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
4.3 Sustainable Aviation Fuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
4.4 Conclusion .................................... 14
5 Stronger pathways 15
6 The industry view 15
7 Offsetting 16
8 EU Fit for 55 & UK Jet Zero 17
9 Airports 20
10 Tourism 20
11 Substitutes 22
12 Emissions pricing 23
13 The distribution of air travel 23
13.1 How are carbon emissions distributed? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
13.2 Application to New Zealand . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
13.3Suggestedresponses ............................... 28
14 Flying less 30
15 What is a fair share for aviation emissions? 34
16 Conclusions 35
1 New Zealand’s commitment within the COP26 ‘aviation
ambition’ group
On 10 November 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow, New Zealand along with twenty-two other
countries joined the “International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition”, committing,
amongst other things, to “Preparing up-to-date state action plans detailing ambitious and
concrete national action to reduce aviation emissions and submitting these plans to ICAO
well in advance of the 41st ICAO Assembly” [46]. This Assembly of the UN’s International
Civil Aviation Organization will take place in September 2022.
In light of this pledge, in this report we review national and global aviation emissions
and examine the various measures that are in place and that have been proposed to address
them. We consider the question: What would “ambitious and concrete action” to reduce
aviation emissions look like for New Zealand?
On the other hand, we bear in mind that ICAO is far from the only or even the most
important actor in aviation emissions. Referring to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol Article 2.2,
which referred international aviation emissions to ICAO rather than the UNFCCC, Dan
Rutherford of the International Council for Clean Transportation has written, “ICAO has
been analyzing climate change for almost 25 years and has yet to recommend a single
measure to directly reduce GHGs from planes” [73]. An ICAO spokesperson has said,
“The responsibility for cutting emissions from all sectors of human activity, including but
not limited to aviation, lies clearly and unambiguously with the states” [50].
Aviation is not only a large industry and a large emitter. It also underpins other
sectors of the economy like tourism and trade, and it links globally dispersed families, even
though an estimated 80% of the world’s population have never set foot on a plane. All of
these aspects are particularly acute for New Zealand, whose geography and infrastructure
influence even domestic travel. If a domestic Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) industry
were to develop, then agriculture, land use, and renewable energy use would be implicated
as well. Psychologically, the rapid rise of cheap and comfortable air travel and its continued
glamorisation in the media has built support for the status quo and made addressing its
emissions more difficult politically.
Climate action in New Zealand has been as slow and tortuous as in many other coun-
tries. Where there has been progress it has tended to come from adopting mechanisms
tried elsewhere, such as the UK’s Committee for Climate Change and the EU’s Emissions
Trading Scheme. Until recently, this has not been possible for aviation. But as other
jurisdictions begin to refine their options, New Zealand is in a good place to start working
out the most suitable way to address aviation emissions.
We close this introduction with a reminder that if there is to be limited overshoot of
1.5 C, global net anthropogenic CO2emissions must decline by 45% from 2010 levels by
2030. As the chairs of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 C write [42],
Without increased and urgent mitigation ambition in the coming years, leading
to a sharp decline in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, global warming will
surpass 1.5 C in the following decades, leading to irreversible loss of the most
fragile ecosystems, and crisis after crisis for the most vulnerable people and
COP26 Declaration
We, the ministers and representatives of states, participating
in the inaugural meeting of the International Aviation Cli-
mate Ambition Coalition at the 26th Conference of the Par-
ties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change, in Glasgow this 10 November 2021.
Being both parties to the Paris Agreement, and contracting
states to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944
(“the Chicago Convention”). Recognising international avi-
ation’s material contribution to climate change through its
CO2emissions, along with its additional, but less well-defined,
contribution associated with non-CO2emissions.
Also recognising that despite the impact of COVID-19, the in-
ternational aviation industry and the number of global air pas-
sengers and volume of cargo is expected to increase significantly
over the next 30 years.
Acknowledging the impact of COVID-19 on the global aviation
sector and the need to develop initiatives that enable the avi-
ation industry to continue to build back better and grow in a
sustainable manner.
Emphasising that international action on tackling aviation
emissions is essential given the global nature of the sector and
that co-operation by states and aviation stakeholders is criti-
cal for reducing the aviation sector’s contribution to climate
change, including its risks and impacts.
Recalling the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal of holding
the increase in the global average temperature to well below
2C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit
the temperature increase to 1.5 C.
Recognising that achieving net zero global CO2emissions by
2050 will maximize the possibility of keeping the global average
temperature increase below 1.5C, and the need to align inter-
national efforts to reduce emissions from the aviation sector
consistent with a pathway towards achieving this temperature
Acknowledging that the International Civil Aviation Organi-
zation (ICAO) is the appropriate forum in which to address
emissions from international aviation through in-sector and
out-of-sector measures to implement short-, medium- and long-
term goals, including the development of a global sustainability
framework to support the deployment of sustainable aviation
fuel (SAF) and the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme
for International Aviation (CORSIA).
Commit to:
1. Working together, both through ICAO and other comple-
mentary cooperative initiatives, to advance ambitious ac-
tions to reduce aviation CO2emissions at a rate consis-
tent with efforts to limit the global average temperature
increase to 1.5 C.
2. Supporting the adoption by ICAO of an ambitious
long-term aspirational goal consistent with the above-
referenced temperature limit, and in view of the industry’s
commitments towards net zero CO2emissions by 2050.
3. Ensuring the maximum effectiveness of CORSIA, includ-
ing by: supporting efforts at ICAO and working with
other ICAO member states to implement and strengthen
CORSIA as an important measure to address aviation
emissions, including to expand participation in CORSIA,
and participating in CORSIA as soon as possible, if our
state has not done so already; taking steps domestically to
implement Annex 16 Volume IV of the Chicago Conven-
tion as fully as possible and in a timely manner, including
with respect to enforcement of domestic regulations, leg-
islation, or Implementation arrangements; advancing the
environmental ambition of the scheme in the course of
undertaking the CORSIA Periodic Reviews; working to
ensure that double counting is avoided through the host
state’s application of corresponding adjustments in ac-
counting for its nationally determined contribution un-
der the Paris Agreement for the mitigation underlying
all CORSIA Eligible Emissions Units and, where needed,
CORSIA Eligible Fuels, used toward CORSIA compli-
4. Promoting the development and deployment, through in-
ternational and national measures, of sustainable avia-
tion fuels that reduce lifecycle emissions and contribute
to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs), in particular avoiding competition with
food production for land use and water supply.
5. Promoting the development and deployment, through in-
ternational and national measures, of innovative new
low- and zero-carbon aircraft technologies that can reduce
aviation CO2emissions.
6. Preparing up-to-date state action plans detailing ambi-
tious and concrete national action to reduce aviation
emissions and submitting these plans to ICAO well in
advance of the 41st ICAO Assembly, where such plans
have not already been updated in line with ICAO Assem-
bly Resolution A40-18, paragraph 11.
7. Promoting capacity building support for the implementa-
tion of CORSIA and other ICAO climate measures, in-
cluding to advance uptake of freely available tools and
to expand regional expertise, accreditation and access to
markets for sustainable aviation fuels and CORSIA Eli-
gible Emissions Units.
8. Convening periodically at both ministerial and official lev-
els with a view to advancing and reviewing progress on the
above commitments. We invite other states to commit to
this declaration and work with us towards our shared ob-
Signed by the ministers and representatives of: Burkina
Faso, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, France,
Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mal-
dives, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nor-
way, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom,
United States of America.
Figure 1: New Zealand aviation CO2emissions, 1990–2019. Source: UNFCCC [81]. Note in particular
the rapid rise in emissions over the 4-year period 2015–2019, 40% for international and 20% for domestic
2 New Zealand’s aviation emissions
New Zealand’s aviation emissions have undergone rapid growth (see Fig. 1). International
emissions tripled from 1.33 Mt CO2in 1990 to 3.89 Mt in 2019. Domestic emissions have
fluctuated around 1 Mt CO2. The total rise is 116%. Aviation rose from 8% to 12%
of New Zealand CO2emissions over this period, much higher than the equivalent global
proportion, which rose from 2.3% to 2.8%.
New Zealand’s 2019 aviation emissions, at 4.90 Mt CO2, can be compared to other
energy-related emissions, including electricity (5.4 Mt), manufacturing (7.5 Mt), land trans-
port (14.6 Mt), agriculture, forestry, and fishing (1.4 Mt), and buildings (1.7 Mt).
Moreover, aviation also causes climate damage through non-CO2effects. Their magni-
tude is uncertain; the current best estimate is that they are twice the CO2effects, making
the total contribution triple [26, 48]. That puts New Zealand’s 2019 aviation emissions at
15 Mt CO2e.
New Zealand ranks 6th in the world for per-capita aviation emissions, at 1 tonne CO2
per person, about 10 times the world average. It ranks 4th for per-capita domestic aviation
emissions (Table 1) and 6th for international (Table 2).
Total international passenger movements rose from 3.5 million in 1990 to 14.2 million in
2019. This is an increase of a factor of 4, whereas emissions have multiplied by 3. Therefore
emissions per passenger (taking into account aircraft efficiency, operational efficiency, and
distance travelled) have declined 1% per year since 1990, similar to the global improvement
Key aspects of New Zealand’s aviation emissions
CO24.9 million tonnes in 2019
Per-capita 6th highest globally at 1 tonne CO2
(cf. US 0.56t, EU 0.65t)
12% of CO2emissions
Proven ability to grow emissions rapidly:
International +40%, domestic +20% in 2015–2019
International passengers fell 97.6% in the 12 months to March 2021
Domestic aviation CO2included in NZ ETS and the falling cap on
Founding member of the International Aviation Climate Ambition
Coalition, committed to presenting an “ambitious and concrete
national action plan” in 2022 to reduce aviation emissions
Table 1: The top 10 countries for per-capita domestic aviation CO2emissions [67]. The US, Australia, and
Canada are all very large countries. Norway and New Zealand are the outliers here.
United States 386 kg
Australia 267 kg
Norway 209 kg
New Zealand 174 kg
Canada 168 kg
Japan 74 kg
Iceland 71 kg
Chile 70 kg
France 70 kg
Saudi Arabia 65 kg
Table 2: The top 10 countries for per-capita international aviation CO2emissions [67]. Middle: direct
emissions. Note that Qatar, UAE, and Singapore are transit hubs, while Iceland and Malta have large
tourism industries, with 6 (resp. 4) international visitors per capita, cf. New Zealand 0.8. Right: emissions
of complete journeys starting or ending in the country (e.g. NZ–UK) [29]. Small island states dominate by
this latter measure (such as the Cook Islands, 3000 kg/person).
direct indirect
Iceland 3506 kg 2626 kg
Qatar 2473 kg 515 kg
UAE 2195 kg 816 kg
Singapore 1741 kg 1047 kg
Malta 992 kg 1261 kg
New Zealand 640 kg 760 kg
Mauritius 600 kg 650 kg
Ireland 574 kg 627 kg
Switzerland 513 kg 548 kg
Australia 496 kg 711 kg
observed over 1960–2014 of 1.3% per year [35] but less than the 56% improvement globally
over the period [52]. One factor could be an increase in the average distance of flights,
which we do not know.
The factors behind this growth are many, but two key ones are price and quality. Since
Air New Zealand launched their Auckland–London flight in August 1982, prices have fallen
70% in real terms, while incomes have risen. Real GDP per person has risen 75% since
1982, so that prices relative to income have fallen by a factor of 6 [21]. The same is true
for trans-Tasman flights. In addition, long-haul flights have become steadily more reliable
and comfortable over the decades.
More passengers means more flights. The Tourism Satellite Account [76] lists more than
100 new and expanded routes during the 2016–2019 period of very rapid growth, some of
them extremely long, such as Auckland to Buenos Aires, Chengdu, Chicago, Doha, Dubai,
and Ho Chi Minh City.
For New Zealanders returning from overseas, 15% had been travelling for business or
education, 42% for holidays, and 36% to visit friends and family. (These travellers could
be resident either in New Zealand or overseas.) Of non-New Zealand travellers, 12% were
travelling for business or education, 52% for holidays, and 28% to visit friends and family
In 1996, 17.5% of the New Zealand population were born overseas. In 2001, 19.5%; in
2006, 22.9%; in 2013, 25.2%, and in 2018, 27.4%. The two largest groups of migrants are
from the UK (265,000 people) and China (144,000). Perhaps 1 million New Zealanders live
overseas, including one in six M¯aori [71].
We do not have complete data on domestic passenger numbers. However, Auckland
Airport domestic passengers grew from 3.2 million in 2000 [2] to 9.1 million in 2017–18 [56],
34% of New Zealand’s total—6.4% annual growth. As emissions only rose by a quarter,
this suggests efficiency improvements of 56%, more than 5% per year. For example, Boeing
737s were replaced by Airbus A320s, which use 35% less fuel. However, a recent emissions
increase of 25% in the past five years suggests that either this progress has either come to
an end or we are at a trough in the improvement cycle.
The Ministry of Transport lists 29 airlines that operated in New Zealand prior to Covid
[60], 12 of them having started New Zealand operations in the past decade.
Aviation in New Zealand is governed by the Civil Aviation Act 1990 and the Airport
Authorities 1966. A new Civil Aviation Bill before parliament in 2022 will replace both
of these. For the first time, it mentions greenhouse gas emissions, containing provisions to
enable the operation of the ICAO’s CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme. Most of the Bill
(and the Civil Aviation Authority’s operations) are concerned with safety and security.
Emissions from domestic aviation are included in the New Zealand Emissions Trading
Scheme (ETS) since the scheme’s inception in 2010. GST is charged on most domestic
flights. There is no fuel excise tax. There are some fees, such as a $1.60 fee per passenger
CAA fee. At an ETS price of $77/tCO2, a return flight from Auckland to Christchurch
(0.194 tCO2) the ETS charge is $14.90, out of a ticket price which can range from $118 to
$920. Some airlines also offer optional carbon offsetting schemes. For example, Air New
Zealand offers offsetting at $24/tCO2, or $4.68 for Auckland–Christchurch return.1
Emissions from international aviation are not included in the ETS. GST is not charged
on international flights, or on domestic flights which connect to international flights. There
is no fuel excise tax. There is an airport and security fee of $50 per ticket.
The customer loyalty schemes Flybuys and Air New Zealand’s Airpoints have grown
rapidly, with 2.4 million and 3 million members respectively.
3 The Paris Agreement and the Zero Carbon Act
The 2016 Paris Agreement does not mention aviation specifically. (The only sector that is
mentioned individually is agriculture.) Nevertheless, the agreement to limit warming to “to
well below 2.0 C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature
increase to 1.5 C above preindustrial levels” and to reach net zero emissions globally in
the second half of this century, does include all sectors, including international aviation
and shipping, as does the agreement for developed countries to undertake “economy-wide”
emission reductions.
At present, emissions from international shipping and aviation are not included in na-
tional emissions, although they are reported to the UNFCCC for noting. So far, no country
or jurisdiction has included these emissions in their Paris Agreement pledges (NDCs).2
New Zealand’s Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, infor-
mally known as the Zero Carbon Act, has adopted the 1.5 C target, interpreted as reaching
net zero emissions of long-lived gases (mostly CO2) by and beyond 2050, along with sub-
stantial cuts in short-lived gases (mostly methane). International aviation is not presently
included either in the targets or the carbon budgets. The Climate Change Commission
has been asked to advise by 2024 on whether international aviation and shipping should be
1All dollars are nominal New Zealand dollars unless otherwise stated.
2The United Kingdom included emissions from international aviation and shipping in its sixth carbon
budget for the period 2033-2037, and stated that these emissions are included in the net zero target for
included in the 2050 target. The first three carbon budgets and the CCC’s demonstration
pathway to 2050 include room to include these sectors in the net zero 2050 targets.
However, questions have been raised as to whether the targets themselves are strict
enough and whether they are compatible with the 1.5 C goal, which requires net zero
long-lived gases for the whole world by 2050, and earlier for the developed countries (as
per the Paris Agreement). Christina Hood, former head of the IEA climate change unit,
has argued that they should be strengthened immediately, as the 2050 target will influence
policies in the 2020s [40]. The question will also be addressed by the courts: in July
2021 Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand filed for a judicial review of the Climate
Change Commission’s advice, stating that the proposed emissions budgets are “irrational,
unreasonable, and inconsistent with the purpose of the [Zero Carbon] Act” [51].
Policies to address aviation emissions are in preparation in the UK (“Jet Zero”), EU
(“Fit for 55”), and US (through the EPA, and mentioned in Presidential Executive Orders
of 20 and 27 January 2021).
In summary, many factors—the urgent need to phase out the burning of fossil fuels,
New Zealand legislation, the Government’s climate goals, international agreements, and
emerging international action—point towards reducing aviation emissions. New Zealand’s
distinctive situation and the novelty of the challenge indicate that all possible solutions
should be examined carefully.
4 New technology
4.1 Incremental improvements
Past improvements in efficiency (emissions per passenger–kilometre) have come from more
efficient planes and operations. Aircraft improvements include aerodynamics (e.g. wingtips),
weight (especially the recent shift from aluminium to carbon fibre) and engines, and also
larger planes and longer flights. Operational improvements include higher occupancy and
less time waiting to land.
The aircraft industry anticipates continued improvements in all of these things. How-
ever, each is subject to a fundamental limit. In addition, the planes now in operation
and on order will be in operation for many decades, during which time emissions must be
Space per passenger is a major component of efficiency, but this has tended to move in
both directions, with budget airlines decreasing space and full service airlines increasing it
by allocating more space to business and first class passengers. The A380 was designed to
carry 853 passengers, but this never happened; it has been used to seat just 379.
Longer flights are in general more efficient per kilometre, although there has been a
recent trend for ultra-long flights, which reverses this. Long flights also increase comfort
and convenience (fewer stops), which act to increase total travel.
4.2 “Zero-emission” aircraft
A great deal of media attention has been focused on projects and proposals for zero-emission
aircraft, of which the three main contenders are battery electric, hydrogen electric, and hy-
drogen combustion. (Emissions would be very low or zero during flight; lifecycle emissions
including building the aircraft and making the fuel and providing renewable energy for it
would not of course be zero.) Numerous small electric aircraft under development, some
aiming at commercial use in the mid-2020s, and Airbus are aiming for hydrogen-powered
flight by 2035.
As no such commercial aircraft exist at present, the uncertainties are large. The engi-
neering challenges for usable performance even from small electric aircraft are substantial,
although the short-hop 19-seater that Sounds Air hope to operate by 2026 may be feasible
[14]. Zero-emission aircraft do not enjoy the energy efficiency gains of electric or hydrogen
land transport, because the batteries or tanks have to be lifted. A schematic hydrogen
aircraft [61] is actually less energy-efficient than a standard aircraft, due to its very large,
heavy tanks.
If these aircraft do become a reality, they would need to be supplied with electricity or
hydrogen. The energy required is significant. Mason et al. [53] find that under business-
as-usual growth in aviation, 42 TWh of electricity would be needed by 2050—equal to
New Zealand’s entire current supply, and dwarfing the 7 TWh of fossil fuel-fired electricity
which the government is currently hoping to phase out. In addition, New Zealand would
be attempting to replace all the fossil fuels used in land transport, and a lot of those used
in industry, with electricity and/or hydrogen at the same time. Electrolysers tend to be
placed where the fuel is needed, indicating a need for a 3800 MW electrolyser at Auckland
airport, a power demand equivalent to about 6 times that produced by the Manapouri
power station. (About 200 MW of electrolysis is currently in existence worldwide.) Power
could be provided, for example, by 14,000 MW of wind turbines, i.e., 63 copies of the
Turitea wind farm that is currently under construction at a cost of $370 million. The
resulting substantial increase in intermittent supply in the electricity grid would mean
that more storage or oversized electrolysers would also be needed.
In other words, the energy requirements are extreme.
Despite this, new developments or announcements are greeted with excitement. On 1
November 2021, the first electric plane to cross Cook Strait—a 2-seater Pipistrel Alpha
Electro—arrived in Wellington [34]:
Climate Change Minister James Shaw, speaking to the group of public officials
and aviation industry professionals gathered in the terminal to celebrate the
plane’s arrival, said it was entirely possible the aviation industry could decar-
bonise faster than the transport industry. “There’s only about four purchasing
managers in the entire country who will have to make a different decision once
the technology becomes available to them. We’ve always needed aviation, par-
ticularly when it comes to our regional access, and electric aviation opens up a
lot of these small remote places, because obviously electricity is so much cheaper
than aviation fuel.”
4.3 Sustainable Aviation Fuels
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is the main term used by the aviation industry
to describe a nonconventional (fossil derived) aviation fuel. SAF is the preferred
IATA term for this type of fuel although when other terms such as sustainable
alternative fuel, sustainable alternative jet fuel, renewable jet fuel or biojet fuel
are used, in general, the same intent is meant. ‘Biofuels’ typically refers to
fuels produced from biological resources (plant or animal material). However,
current technology allows fuel to be produced from other alternative sources,
including non-biological resources; thus, the term is adjusted to highlight the
sustainable nature of these fuels. The chemical and physical characteristics of
SAF are almost identical to those of conventional jet fuel and they can be safely
mixed with the latter to varying degrees, use the same supply infrastructure and
do not require the adaptation of aircraft or engines. Fuels with these properties
are called “drop-in fuels” (i.e. fuels that can be automatically incorporated into
existing airport fuelling systems). Moreover, to validly use the term “sustain-
able” they must meet sustainability criteria such as lifecycle carbon emissions
reduction, limited fresh-water requirements, no competition with needed food
production (like first generation biofuels) and no deforestation. IATA [44]
The lion’s share of many aviation pathways focus on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF);
see Rae and Callister [71] for a New Zealand-oriented review. The challenges of these
pathways are extreme. In 2019, 0.05% of global aviation fuel was biofuel, made from food
crops and waste food such as tallow and used cooking oil. These are limited in supply, as is
household organic waste (a feedstock presently under commercial development in the US).
Therefore, pathways with high levels of SAF look to other feedstocks, especially (for New
Zealand) wood waste and logs. However, there are no such plants in commercial operation.
A report from the ICCT [66] concluded that the EU could be capable of producing 2 Mt
a year of wood-based biofuel by 2035, about a quarter of the proposed mandate in “Fit
for 55” and slightly more than New Zealand’s 2019 consumption of jet fuel. Closing the
apparent gap—a factor of 100—will need close attention.
Biofuels can vary considerably in their lifecycle emission reductions, which can be very
hard to estimate accurately [69]. To consider an artificial example, in a net zero scenario
with a 100% SAF mandate and fuels which reduce lifecycle emissions by 50%, the net
reduction in emissions would be only 50%. So even a 100% SAF mandate may require
significant offsetting.
New Zealand is in the process of implementing a biofuel mandate for land transport,
with a target of 9% lifecycle GHG reduction from biofuel by 2035. (This would be met
initially from imports, with allowable feedstocks yet to be determined.) Longer-term, the
options for domestic biofuel production from waste wood (which have good lifecycle GHG
reductions of 80–90%) are being explored. An initial study estimates that a $520 million
plant could produce 57 million litres of fuel per year, 0.7% of New Zealand’s liquid fuel
consumption, and that there is enough feedstock available for 20 such plants [9]. To avoid
transport costs and emissions, the plants must be located near the forests. A wood-to-fuel
plant is presently under construction in the US by Lanzatech.
E-fuels, made directly from water and carbon dioxide (sourced from the air or from flue
gases) and a lot of renewable electricity, can potentially be supplied in any amount. They
also eliminate some of the environmental effects of biofuels and some of the non-CO2effects
of burning fossil fuels in aircraft. A number of small trial plants are under construction in
Europe. The obstacles are cost and (if the industry were to scale up) renewable electricity
supply. The ICCT estimate [66] that at ¤2/L support, the EU could produce 0.23 Mt
a year of e-fuels by 2035, one tenth of the proposed mandate under “Fit for 55.” If this
cost (5 times the current price of jet fuel, and equivalent to a carbon price of ¤800/tCO2)
were added to ticket prices, they would triple. This, however, should be seen as a positive
combination: e-fuels are better in some ways than a straight tax. They increase the price
of travel while also reducing emissions at the source. The energy requirements are about
twice that of hydrogen electrolysis.
An ambitious scenario for 2035 for aviation SAF for New Zealand would involve two
$520m wood-based biofuel plants (producing 57 million litres a year each) and one 100
MW e-fuel plant producing 40 million litres a year. Together they would provide 8% of
New Zealand’s aviation fuel at 2019 levels of demand. It should be considered whether this
could be achieved simultaneously with a rapid expansion of green hydrogen and low-carbon
biofuel for non-aviation applications. In addition, if demand were to grow as envisaged by
existing airport expansion plans, total emissions would grow while the difficulty and cost
of meeting such a proportion of SAF would increase.
Overall, although New Zealand has comparatively superior potential resources of both
renewable electricity and of feedstock for advanced biofuels, significant capital investment
and advance planning would be required to exploit them. Nevertheless, sustainable aviation
fuel mandates open up synergistic pathways in which the higher costs of sustainable fuels
lead to greater focus on efficiency and lower traffic growth.
4.4 Conclusion
The obstacles in the way of a technological solution to aviation emissions are formidable. In
addition to cost, technological readiness, feedstock supply, and environmental side-effects,
there are difficult timing issues. On one hand, emission reductions are needed now, but
the alternatives are not ready; on the other, it is hard to reliably forecast the future cost
of different solutions in order to make the necessary decisions now. All of this is seemingly
at odds with institutional pathways’ reliance on technological solutions and their media
A comprehensive study by Grewe al. [35] considered a wide range of scenarios for
growth, technology, and Covid response, finding that only the most optimistic scenarios
involving rapid uptake of new technology could stabilise aviation’s climate impact in the
second half of the century, but that a technology assessment expert group found these
scenarios implausible.
New technology plays a complex role in climate change with, by now, a long history.
McLaren and Markusson [54] discuss ‘technologies of prevarication’, outlining a cycle in
which technological promises have “enabled a continued politics of prevarication and inad-
equate action by raising expectations of more effective policy options becoming available in
the future, in turn justifying existing limited and gradualist policy choices and thus dimin-
ishing the perceived urgency of deploying costly and unpopular, but better understood and
tested, options for policy in the short term.” Examples include forestry, nuclear power, en-
ergy efficiency, CCS, BECCS, direct air capture of CO2, and solar radiation management.
Meanwhile, even the simplest promises such as energy efficiency have failed to be adopted
quickly and widely enough.
5 Stronger pathways
The 2019 study Absolute Zero from the UK FIRES consortium [5] is based on the premise
that radically new technologies—like hydrogen planes, e-fuels, and bio-energy with carbon
capture and storage—will not be able to scale up rapidly to make a difference within 30
years. Therefore, virtually all sources of emissions have to be phased out using today’s
technologies. In fact, they regard talk of new technologies as actively damaging: “It’s
difficult to start discussing how we really want to address climate change while we keep
hoping that new technologies will take the problem away.”
For aviation, the report concludes that as there are no options for zero-emissions flight
in the time available, the industry faces a rapid contraction. The Absolute Zero pathway
involves all UK airports except Heathrow, Glasgow, and Belfast closing in the 2020s, and
these three phasing out conventional flight by 2050. Electric flight and e-fuels may allow
flight to resume when sufficient zero carbon electricity is available.
Kl¨ower et al. [48] describe an apparently less disruptive pathway with even better
environmental impact. The key (or catch) is that they include the non-CO2effects of
aviation. They find that if aviation were to decline at 2.5%/year, or there were a transition
to a 90% carbon-neutral fuel mix by 2050, then “the impacts of the continued rise in
accumulated CO2emissions and the fall of non-CO2climate forcers would balance each
other, leading to no further increase in aviation-induced warming with immediate effect.”
That is, net zero would be reached almost immediately. The catch is that developing such
a strategy involves recognising and controlling the non-CO2effects of aviation, which are
currently unregulated and are twice as large as the CO2effects.
6 The industry view
The International Air Transport Association, a trade association of the world’s airlines,
initially established a goal of halving net emissions between 2010 and 2050. In 2021, this
was strengthened to net zero by 2050. The IATA plan forecasts passenger numbers to
grow from 4.5 billion in 2019 to 10 billion in 2050, with net zero emissions to be achieved
by 65% SAF, 13% new technology such as hydrogen aircraft, 3% operations, 11% CCS,
and 8% offsetting. SAF use in the aviation industry would grow from 0.2 Mt in 2019 to
18 Mt in 2030 and 180 Mt in 2040, while it is claimed that the industry is not reliant on
zero-emission aircraft to meet net-zero [83].
The actual resolution agreed by members, however, is considerably less specific [43]. It
does not contain these targets or mechanisms by which they would be met; the agreement
covers general aspirations and calls for government support. In particular, governments
are asked that their aviation plans do not rely on ticket or carbon taxes.
Industry-led forecasts of rapid passenger growth (+120% by 2050, or 3% per year)
require continuously accelerating behaviour change from the public, who would be spending
more and more of their time flying under such scenarios.
Air New Zealand has taken an increasingly strong line on sustainability, which has
been maintained and even strengthened during Covid. Their 2021 sustainability report [3]
was the first to outline a schematic pathway to reach net zero by 2050. It involves about
75% passenger growth by 2050, with net zero to be achieved by 20% of the emissions cuts
coming from new conventional aircraft; 20% from zero-emission aircraft; 50% from SAF
(implying an 86% SAF mandate); 2% from operations; and 8% from offsetting.
They see a need for strong government action to establish a domestic SAF industry,
first based on forestry residues with a domestic plant running by 2027, then on waste, then
(from 2045) on whole logs and e-fuels, with steady progress ensured via an SAF mandate [4].
The head of Air New Zealand’s sustainability advisory panel, Jonathan Porritt, commented
New Zealand will always be a price-taker. By 2030, it will be the big players
in the industry who will be determining that price. The only way of managing
that risk is for New Zealand to ensure its own, indigenous SAF capability—and
that means taking big decisions in a clear and accountable way over the next
couple of years.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment will advise on an aviation SAF
mandate in 2022, with the mandate proposed to start in 2025.
7 Offsetting
Prior to 2020, the main climate strategy put forward by the aviation industry was offsetting.
This formed the basis of ICAO’s CORSIA scheme, originally intended to cap net emissions
at 2020 levels. When Covid led to a fall in traffic in 2020, the baseline was reset to 2019,
so CORSIA is unlikely to do anything at all for several years. A study for the European
Commission found that none of the offsetting programmes approved under CORSIA met all
of the quality requirements; that all of them had issues with double counting—for example,
claiming credit for emission reductions already covered by national climate targets; that the
price of offsets (less than ¤1) provides no incentive to reduce emissions; and that secrecy
at ICAO prevents independent verification of the scheme’s operation [24].
Voluntary offsetting is also possible. At Air New Zealand this operates under the Fly-
Neutral programme, which offsets 7% of emissions. The current price is around $24/tCO2,
of which $6 is used to offset emissions in international projects arranged through the com-
pany ClimateCare, and the rest is directed to New Zealand biodiversity projects through
organisations such as Trees That Count and the Native Forest Restoration Trust.
The entire topic of offsetting and its role in climate solutions is controversial. For ex-
ample, Carton et al. [19] discuss putative carbon, geographical, and temporal equivalences
between positive and negative emissions, and conclude that climate justice requires their
Increasing carbon in terrestrial sinks simply replaces carbon that has been
lost to the atmosphere over past centuries. Fossil carbon, on the other hand,
is permanently locked away. Thus, burning fossil fuels moves carbon from
permanent storage into the active carbon cycle, causing an aggregate increase
in land, ocean, and atmospheric carbon. Once added, this additional carbon
cannot be removed through natural sinks on time-scales relevant to climate
In addition, on purely physical grounds, Zickfeld et al. [85] conclude that a CO2emis-
sion into the atmosphere is more effective at raising atmospheric CO2than an equivalent
CO2removal is at lowering it.
For these and other reasons, the NGO Climate Action Tracker recognises gross emissions
The issue is particularly acute for New Zealand, where mitigation pathways require
forestry to rapidly and continuously increase to 2050 and beyond. Emissions from the first
half of the century would be stored above ground and maintained by our descendants in
the second half of the century. In addition, current proposals are for two-thirds of New
Zealand’s Paris Agreement target for 2030 to be achieved internationally—much of which
could again be by offsets. In other words, the availability of offsets has in part determined
a pathway which involves higher fossil fuel use than would otherwise be the case.
Even if offsetting programs could satisfy all requirements for integrity, they could still
act so as to deter gross emission reductions. People might fly (believing it to have no climate
impact), and airlines might increase gross emissions (having escaped national regulation).
Certainly offsetting has been a mechanism for ICAO to avoid having to develop standards
that reduce emissions at the source.
Therefore, the renewed emphasis since 2020 on true net zero pathways for aviation that
involve only small amounts of offsetting is welcome. Whether offsetting has any useful role
to play in the next few decades, though, is an open question.
8 EU Fit for 55 & UK Jet Zero
Two principal jurisdictions that have begun efforts to address aviation emissions are the
EU and the UK. This work is not new, as intra-EU aviation has been partly covered by
the EU ETS since its inception. The EU was sceptical of the CORSIA scheme and had
always intended to review its performance and their regulation of extra-EU aviation. But
the EU’s new NDC under the Paris Agreement, to cut emissions to 55% below 1990 levels
by 2030, via the “Fit for 55” program, has hastened this work. Meanwhile, the UK has
included international aviation in its 6th carbon budget for 2033–2037, leading to their
“Jet Zero” plan. Neither plan has yet been adopted.
Under “Fit for 55”, the EU will phase out free ETS allowances for intra-EU aviation
(currently covering about half of such travel) over 2024–2027, and reduce the emissions
cap of the whole ETS faster. They will tax jet fuel for intra-EU flights from 2023, with
the tax rising linearly to ¤0.38/L (equivalent to ¤154/tCO2) by 2033. For all flights, an
SAF mandate would rise from 5% in 2030 to 20% in 2035 and 63% by 2050, for which only
waste wood and fats and e-fuels would qualify. Taxation for extra-EU flights would be left
up to each country to determine, while CORSIA would remain in place.
The EU has also explored options for addressing the non-CO2impacts of aviation [26].
Their model forecasts a baseline growth in emissions of 20% over 2015–2050, with the
new proposals reducing emissions by 60% for an overall reduction of 52%.
The NGO Transport and Environment said the EU should reject CORSIA (“a cheap
offsetting scheme that continues to allow aviation emissions to grow. It includes credits
that don’t actually deliver emissions reductions, risk being double counted and are mostly
priced under ¤1”) and instead apply the ETS to all flights [23]. They also recommended
applying a multiplier for non-CO2effects and dedicating ETS revenues to e-fuel production.
The UK’s Jet Zero has a headline goal of net zero aviation by 2050. It sees aviation
emissions rising from 37 MtCO2in 2019 to 39 Mt in 2030, then falling to 31 Mt in 2004 and
21 Mt in 2050—a 42% reduction from 2019, but a 63% reduction from their baseline which
includes traffic growth of 54%. Reductions are to be comprised of demand reductions 8.8%;
efficiency gains 36%; zero emission aircraft 4.1%; SAF 14.4%; and offsets 36.7%.
SAF proposals are oriented around the establishment of a very large domestic industry,
with 25–125 large SAF plants in the UK by 2050. The draft includes a very wide range
of possible pathways. Other components are to retain the ETS for UK–EU flights, to
‘strengthen carbon pricing’, and to require zero emission domestic aviation by 2040.
Jet Zero includes a comment that “any growth in aviation must be compatible with
our emissions reduction commitments”—although they allow more growth than the 25%
included in the UK CCC balanced net zero pathway, discussed below.
Although it represented something of a landmark initiative, Jet Zero was poorly received
by environmental groups.
The ICCT remarked that none of the six pathways were consistent with the Paris
Agreement, as they would lead to aviation using up its share of the remaining carbon
budget for 1.7 C by the late 2030s [72].
The Aviation Environment Foundation said that the proposals would not achieve the
pathways: they include too much growth, do not take into account the true emissions
of SAF or its cost, were too optimistic about new technologies, and do not put in place
clear price signals [25]. They recommended adopting the ‘polluter pays’ principle that the
industry should pay the costs of its own decarbonisation. In addition, the government
should regulate frequent flyer programmes and not support airport expansion as a “means
of managing supply that will prepare the industry for the lower levels that can be expected
once carbon pricing is meaningfully introduced.”
Transport and Environment described the proposals as “all carrot, no stick” [27]. In
their view Jet Zero has no requirement for zero emission planes; nothing to curb demand;
nothing for the near term; assumes that the government has plentiful carbon removal
options in place for 2050, which should be the industry’s job; does not ensure that 2019’s
emission levels are never reached again, should set conditions that ensure that private
capital delivers SAF and zero emission aircraft; should not use the term “high ambition”
to describe 21 Mt CO2emissions in 2050, true “high ambition” would be zero emissions;
should include a separate e-fuel mandate (as the EU is proposing) as waste feedstocks are
limited; and non-CO2effects should be included in the ETS immediately until airlines can
find a better way.
The UK Committee for Climate Change is responsible for a broad range of advice to
and oversight of the government, in particular related to carbon budgets. The UK’s 6th
carbon budget (2033-37) includes international aviation and shipping. Therefore, their
pathways to Net Zero 2050 have been revised to reflect this. UK aviation emissions were
39.3 Mt CO2in 2018, or 0.59 tCO2per person (cf. New Zealand 1 tCO2per person).
These comprised 7% of total UK GHG emissions. Of this, just 7% were domestic.
The UK CCC’s ‘Balanced Net Zero’ pathway foresees passenger growth of 25% by 2050
(compared to 64% in the baseline model) and no increased airport capacity. Efficiency
 
45 | BP Energy O utlook: 2019 edit ion | © BP p.l.c. 2019
The transport sector continues
increasing penetration of alternative
 
within transport declines to around
and biofuels together account for
more than half of the increase in
providing around 5% of transport
Oil used in transport increases 4
of that demand stemming from
Electricity and natural gas in
transportation increase by
broadly similar volumes
use of electricity concentrated in
passenger cars and light trucks;
and the rising demand for natural
 
The use of biofuels increases
 
considers the scope for greater
Key points
Final energy consumption in transport:
Growth by fuel and mode, 2 017-2040
Final energy consumption in transport:
Consumption by fuel
Sectors – Transpor t
Billion toe Mtoe
Non-oil energy
sources account
for over half of the
increase of energy
used in transport
20 Biofuels
Net Zero
2018 2050
Net Zero
2018 2050
140 Tr ucks
Passenger vehicle
Net Zero
 
accounted for around 7 Mb/d and
in both Rapid and BAU: growth
prosperity, especially in emerging
Net Zero, the growth
lower than in BAU
a shift in societal preferences to
preference for the consumption
of locally-produced goods and
reduction in oil trade in Net Zero
contributes to reduced shipping
demand by around a third by 2050
In Rapid
Net Zero
the early 2030s and declines to a
to grow throughout the Outlook in
 
since neither batteries nor hydrogen
to around 30% by 2050 in Rapid
Net Zero
contrast, there is minimal growth in
the share of biofuels in BAU
 
into hydrogen (either as ammonia
Rapid and Net Zero,
non-fossil fuels account for 40%
BAU, marine
demand for oil increases slightly by
2050, with natural gas increasing
its share of the sector fuel mix to
Key points
    Aviation and marine demand by source
49 | bp Energy Outlook: 20 20 edition
48 |
Tr an s po r t
Figure 2: The oil industry’s reliance on aviation growth. Scenarios from the BP Energy Outlook for 2019
(left) and 2020 (right) [11, 12].
improvements and a 25% SAF share see emissions fall 40% by 2050. There would still
remain 24 Mt CO2of aviation emissions, 25% of gross emissions, which would need to be
offset to reach net zero. This pathway, and its embedded growth, has been criticised on
the grounds that it privileges the aviation sector at the expense of everyone else [75].
The UK CCC finds that demand could be managed by “carbon pricing, a frequent flyer
levy, fuel duty, VAT or reforms to Air Passenger Duty, and/or restricting the availability
of flights through management of airport capacity” and are confident, based on discussions
at the Climate Assembly, that this would be acceptable to the public.
A ‘tailwinds’ scenario sees demand falling 15% by 2050 and 95% SAF share, leading to
nearly zero aviation emissions.
The International Energy Agency released an influential net zero study in 2021 [45].
For aviation, their scenario involves business travel and flights longer than 6 hours held at
2019 levels; regional flights shifted to high-speed rail where feasible; total travel to increase
70% between 2019 and 2050; advanced biofuel and e-fuel use to reach 50% by 2040 and
78% by 2050; governments to define their SAF strategies by 2025 at the latest; and carbon
prices across all advanced economies rise to US$130 by 2030 and US$250 by 2050. Despite
being enthusiastic about the practicalities of SAF—the IEA estimates that it will only add
$10 to the price of a 1200 km flight in 2050—they are cautious on zero-emission aircraft,
assigning them 2% of air travel in 2050.
The oil industry has a stake in increasing oil use in three key sectors, plastics, aviation,
and shipping, as it is clear now that oil use in land transport will decrease even at present
levels of climate action. The BP Energy Outlook for 2019 [11] saw total oil demand con-
tinuing to increase past 2040, with 64% of the increase coming from aviation (Fig. 2). In
2020 the Outlook introduced two new scenarios [12], “Rapid” and “Net Zero”, along with
BAU. They involve aviation nearly doubling by 2050, accompanied by 35% efficiency im-
provements and either 30% or 60% share of biofuels, along with a carbon price of NZ$250
by 2035 and NZ$380 by 2050 in developed countries. The prospects of such a carbon price
applying to all international aviation in the developed world by 2035 are not addressed.
9 Airports
Aviation growth and airport expansion go hand-in-hand. Just as many airlines are state-
owned (Wikipedia lists 119 of them, including Air New Zealand), so are many airports.
In Europe, 59% of airports are wholly public-owned, 16% are private, and 25% are mixed.
A 2018 report lists US$737 billion of airport construction projects in progress worldwide,
of which just 7% were privately funded. Climate concerns have been raised against this
tsunami of development. In the UK, where Heathrow’s third runway has been controversial
for decades, five environmental groups filed for a judicial review in 2018. All claims were
dismissed. In February 2020, the Court of Appeal overturned this decision, finding that the
Government’s failure to take the Paris Agreement into account was unlawful; this decision
was itself overturned in December 2020 by the Supreme Court. However, any application
for the development will need to take into account the Government’s aviation emissions
strategy, which is still in preparation [30].
In New Zealand, Auckland Airport’s long-held plans for a second runway have been put
on hold by Covid, but a $1 billion airport redevelopment will go ahead. Wellington Airport
is in the process of expanding; the first stage has been approved and is now under a court
challenge. Christchurch Airport is proposing to build an entirely new international airport
in Tarras, Otago, to serve the Queenstown–Wanaka region, again prompting environmental
concerns. All three airports are partly publicly owned.
The paucity of government regulation or planning for aviation growth, particularly
international aviation, or any guidance for the responsibilities of airports, is likely to become
the subject of attention in these and in future development plans and in any possible
court actions. Citizens and environmental groups can become directly involved in decision
making related to airport construction.
In the UK, the Balanced Net Zero pathway of the UK CCC requires no net airport
expansion in the UK; but eight airports are currently planning expansions.
New Zealand’s current aviation emissions plan, prepared in 2016 as an ICAO require-
ment [57], takes a ‘predict and provide’ approach to growth and does not link airport
capacity to emissions growth. It is woefully out of date, predicting international emissions
in 2019 of 2.3–2.7 MtCO2, depending on the rate of efficiency improvements, one-third less
than the actual emissions of 3.9 MtCO2. In 2021 NZ Airports supported this plan in their
submission to the Climate Change Commission, and wrote that New Zealand airports have
almost no contribution to aviation greenhouse gas emissions; growth and the level of flying
were not mentioned as a factor in emissions [64].
10 Tourism
The growth of aviation has been tightly linked to the growth of tourism, both in New
Zealand and worldwide. If aviation continues to grow, tourism will likely either continue
in this role or become even more dominant. Through the 2010s the marketing of tourism
continued to evolve, with talk of adventure and bucket lists for the upper middle classes
in developed countries, and privilege and luxury for those on the highest incomes.
In January 2022, James Higham of the University of Otago co-edited a special issue of
the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, writing in the introduction (“Code red for sustainable
tourism”) [38]
Governments need to take a leading responsibility, but we cannot currently
expect this to come from national tourism administrations. [. . . ] Tourism
administrations are guided by two key performance indicators: volume of (in-
ternational) tourists, and volume of expenditure. Until their mandate changes,
and they are required to develop metrics of success aligned with the Sustain-
able Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, any change will only happen
as a result of other government departments that have a sustainability remit,
particularly from those in charge of transport, energy and climate.
Indeed, New Zealand’s own state tourism body has been slow to address emissions. The
2019 Government Tourism Strategy was focussed on ‘sustainable tourism growth’, but did
not mention aviation emissions at all. A 2019 industry strategy (‘now with sustainability
firmly at its heart’) briefly mentioned aviation emissions in the context of the threat that
tourists might become environmentally responsible and not want to fly as far as New
Zealand [80]. The Tourism Futures Taskforce, formed in response to Covid, announced
that their final report would make recommendations on decarbonisation, but the group
was disbanded [63].
Initiative therefore fell to the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the En-
vironment, Simon Upton, who in 2021 made tourism aviation emissions one of four key
foci. In view of the particular political and practical challenges of the sector, he made two
modest recommendations: one, to incorporate an emissions price into the cost of air travel
from New Zealand, along the lines of the UK’s departure levy, with revenues directed to de-
carbonisation R&D and Pacific climate finance; and two, to seek a plurilateral agreement,
such as a climate club.
There has been no specific government response to these proposals. However, in May
2021 the Government agreed to re-set and rebuild tourism on a sustainable model and that
the costs and negative impacts associated with tourism must be mitigated or priced into
the visitor experience, and not funded by New Zealand rate and tax payers [63].
ossling and Higham [32] have proposed three areas of action for national and regional
tourism bodies. First, to lower emissions by focussing on closer markets, longer stays, and
lobbying for regulation of aviation emissions. Second, to add value by promoting local
and year-round activities. Third, to reduce financial leakage due to franchises, foreign
ownership, travel booking sites, credit cards, and frequent flyer programs.
Internationally, the response has been no better. The WTTC, the peak global body for
the travel and tourism industry, does have a net zero roadmap [84]: it assumes 83% growth
from 2019 to 2050, and views the levers for aviation to be new technology, operational effi-
ciency, and SAF—that is, not pricing or demand reduction. They remark that “especially
in aviation, government support is key to realising the potential of the key levers.”
At COP26 the “Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism” was launched;
signatories (travel and tourism companies) committed to preparing a plan within 12 months
to halve emissions in 10 years and reach net zero by 2050. Scott and G¨ossling write [74]:
The lack of specific actions in the Glasgow Declaration, and only unspecific com-
mitments to measure sector emissions, reduce emissions, finance decarboniza-
tion and adaptation, and to collaborate on the net zero journey reinforce this
concern [a worryingly unfamiliarity of the strategies by which Paris Agreement
compatible energy-emission futures could be achieved and the potential impli-
cations for the tourism sector]. Many of these actions have been recommended
over a decade ago, while recent studies demonstrate the persistent disconnect
between tourism and climate policy at national scales. . . The incoherence of
tourism and climate policy at national and international scales is an increasing
vulnerability for tourism development.
They conclude that growth projections from the tourism sector are not compatible with
net zero scenarios.
11 Substitutes
The natural experiment of Covid has revealed the startling availability of substitutes for
flying, including flying less (see Section 14), videoconferencing (which, although not an
exact substitute, has perhaps connected more people than flying ever did), substituting
domestic for international tourism, and substituting local tourism for distant domestic
tourism. All would repay further study. (An Aucklander with a second home in the ski
resort of Queenstown could have higher emissions than the Londoner with a ski chalet in
Switzerland interviewed by Cass et al. [20].)
Here we look at land transport as a substitute for domestic air travel.
The land transport options are private vehicles or public transport, bus and train. New
Zealand’s response is hampered by its extreme reliance on private cars—having heavily
invested in infrastructure, with large schedule future investments and one of the highest car
ownership rates in the world—and relative underinvestment in regional public transport.
Low-occupancy private cars are at present even higher-emission than flying and, despite
some regulatory progress, likely to improve only slowly on a fleet-wide basis. This option
is high-emission for the vast majority of car owners, and not available at all for people
who do not own or car or drive, including many children, elderly, and some people with
Regional public transport is limited to buses and trains. The passenger rail network,
which had eight lines totalling 2700 km in 2001 and shrank to four lines and 1340 km
by 2020, now just has three short routes left, Wellington–Palmerston North, Wellington–
Masterton, and Hamilton–Auckland, totalling 348 km. For tourists, there is still the train
from Christchurch to Greymouth. A private coach network still exists, but suffers from
infrequent service, poor quality, substandard terminals, lack of connectivity, and lack of
integrated ticketing.
If, in the UK, the rich take trains and the poor take buses [6], we suspect that in
New Zealand the rich fly or drive and the poor take the bus or do not travel at all.
Callister et al. [13, 15] make the case for the positive impact that a high-quality regional
bus network would have on social and health inequalities, as well as on greenhouse gas
emissions. Unfortunately, there is essentially no ongoing academic research, institutional
monitoring, or coordinated planning of regional public transport in New Zealand.
Until the entire inter-regional transport system is considered as a whole, it will not be
possible to assess the case for specific interventions such as rail electrification, resurrection
of regional passenger rail, or an upgrade to higher-speed trains.
12 Emissions pricing
In New Zealand, domestic aviation is included in the Emissions Trading Scheme and in the
carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act
2019. The first budget period covers 2022–2025. Prices rose from $39/tCO2to $85/tCOO
in the year to 18 February 2022. Reserve units can be released (to be repaid later) if the
price reaches $70 in 2022, rising to $110 in 2026. Carbon pricing, and the cap on emissions
now in operation, can be expected to have an impact on domestic aviation.
Therefore, one view is that no further action is needed on domestic aviation.
However, a recent review of the literature on emissions pricing by one of the present au-
thors [37] comes to an opposite conclusion, namely that emissions pricing can’t do it alone.
The behaviour change and technological transitions are too demanding in the required time
frame, and prices are unlikely to be allowed to rise high enough. Complementary policies
can deliver emissions reductions in a fairer and more orderly way, even under a cap on
Emerging plans for aviation adopt this view. For example, the EU is proposing to use
both an SAF mandate and a fuel tax, in addition to a strengthened ETS and a cap on
(EU) emissions. European support for rail is also linked to reducing intra-EU aviation.
The IEA’s net zero pathway also involves significant carbon pricing along with SAF and
traffic regulation.
The elastic demand for aviation (see next section) indicates that aviation may be more
responsive to pricing measures than areas with less elastic demand.
In this context the preferential tax situation that international aviation enjoys at present
is an extremely significant obstacle to emissions reduction. The legal and jurisdictional
obstacles to revising it are well known and were canvassed by, e.g., the Parliamentary
Commissioner for the Environment [68]. They were a primary reason for his recommen-
dation of a distance-based air passenger duty, as a pricing option that is legally available
immediately. It could form the first step in a more comprehensive pricing regime.
Now that the EU is proposing to impose an excise tax on jet fuel the options politically
open to other countries may increase.
13 The distribution of air travel
Climate solutions are often judged not just by whether they work—that is, by whether they
reduce emissions—but also by whether they support a “just transition”. As Sam Huggard of
the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions writes [41], “the costs of the necessary changes
that deliver all of us a more stable climate must be spread evenly and not fall heavily
and disproportionately on workers, particularly those in carbon-exposed industries.” New
Zealand has joined international declarations to that effect, and set up a “Just Transitions”
unit in the civil service, to ensure that the process is “fair, equitable and inclusive [and]
that the Government works in partnership with iwi, communities, regions and sectors to
manage the impacts and maximise the opportunities of the changes brought about by the
transition to a low emissions economy.”
All well and good. But what is “fair”? It is easier to detect things that are unfair. For
example, a large and sudden petrol tax might be widely seen as unfair, as it would penalise
people whose only available choice is to commute long distances in cheap gas guzzlers,
while wealthy inner-city dwellers could continue to clog up the roads in electric cars.
We argue here that a just transition requires examining not just the impacts on workers
in fossil fuel industries, and not just the impacts on poor people, who generally have low
personal emissions and less ability to change them, but also at the rich high-emitters.
The Paris Agreement is founded on the principles of equity and the “common but
differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of the nations. Just what those
are is open to debate, but this clause is generally held to mean that countries with high
historical emissions—the ones that caused this problem—and rich countries, that have
more scope and power to reduce emissions, should move faster than others.
How about within countries? Should rich people, and/or high-emitting people, pay
proportionately more towards a country’s transition, and reduce emissions more than oth-
13.1 How are carbon emissions distributed?
To approach this question we first need to know the distribution of emissions within indi-
vidual countries. A 2020 paper by Diana Ivanova and Richard Wood [47] looks at this for
26 EU countries. (The data comes from a survey of the expenditure of 275,000 households
carried out in 2010, mapped into greenhouse gas emissions for each type of spending.)
Household emissions measure the emissions related to final consumption, wherever the
actual greenhouse gases were emitted. The EU as a whole produces greenhouse gas emis-
sions of 8 tCO2e per person (cf. New Zealand 16.5 tCO2e). But many EU countries
effectively import emissions by buying things from other countries, such as China. Imports
take the UK’s 6.8 tCO2e per person up to 9.6 tonnes, and Germany’s 9.6 tonnes up to 11.
New Zealand, a net exporter of greenhouse gases, consumes 12.5 tonnes per person. Of
these 12.5 tonnes, 8.9 tonnes are assigned to households.
Ivanova and Wood found (see Fig. 3) that the lowest-emitting half of EU households
emit an average of 5 tonnes per person; the middle 40%, 10 tonnes; the top 10%, 23 tonnes;
and the top 1%, 55 tonnes CO2e per person.
Air travel is strikingly unevenly distributed. 90% of EU households have air travel
emissions averaging 0.1 tonnes per person; 9% average 0.8 tonnes; and the last 1% average
22.6 tonnes. Emissions from essential items (food and housing) increase more slowly that
total spending: there’s a limit to how much food a household needs. Emissions from
goods, services, and land transport increase in tandem with total spending, while emissions
from air travel increases very little in the lower quintiles but very rapidly in the top two.
The authors write that this “confirms air travel as a highly carbon-intensive luxury” and
describe transport as “one of the most unequally distributed and the strongest drivers of
the carbon footprints of the rich”.
They also report the distribution of household emissions across countries. For most
countries (Fig. 3) these track very closely to the distribution of income.
Land travel drives 21% and 32% of the average CF of the EU
top 1% and top 10% of households, respectively. Radical emission
reductions in this category require decreases in the number of
vehicles and travel distance and the shift to low-carbon transport
modes (Ivanova et al.,2020). Research on car dependence exposes
the difficulty of moving away from a car-dominated, high-carbon
transport system and draws attention to the political-economic
factors underpinning that dependence (Mattioli et al.,2020).
Moreover, the high expenditure share on land travel among the
lowest EU expenditure quintile (20%) is alarming, with relative
importance below only basic needs such as food and housing.
In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) countries, the need satisfaction and social inclusion are
dependent on car use and ownership, especially in suburban
and peri-urban areas built on the assumption of near-universal
car access (Mattioli et al.,2020). These results, as well as recent
events (e.g., the yellow vest movement in France; Le Monde,
2018), call attention to the importance of equity considerations
in transport policy.
Important infrastructural, institutional and behavioural lock-
ins (Seto et al.,2016) and powerful forces of highly profitable
(fossil fuel) industries (Fuchs et al.,2016; Roberts et al.,2020)
constrain the transition to a low-carbon society. Giving further
attention to the ways in which to overcome social and political
barriers to low-carbon consumption patterns and living is key
(Ivanova et al.,2020; Mattioli et al.,2020; Roberts et al.,2020).
4.2. Social outcomes and policy recommendations
This article complements prior cross-country analyses of biophys-
ical boundaries and social thresholds (ONeill et al.,2018) with
within-country perspectives in the EU. We explore the distribu-
tion of CFs relative to multidimensional social indicators focusing
on income, education, health and living conditions, allowing for a
broader measurement of poverty and equity and comparisons
across the Sustainable Development Goals (Rao et al.,2017).
We observe wide ranges in income, education, nutrition, employ-
ment and poverty for the same levels of CFs, highlighting success-
ful cases of low-carbon contribution and high levels of social
well-being, as well as high-carbon, low-well-being cases that
need further attention (Roberts et al.,2020). Ensuring decent
levels of physical requirements (e.g., nutrition, shelter) and social
requirements (e.g., communications, mobility) (Rao & Baer, 2012;
Rao & Min, 2018) for well-being should be a key consideration in
the design of a fair climate policy.
More attention on equitable well-being is expected to enable
gains in well-being that are compatible with the radical GHG
emission reductions needed (Roberts et al.,2020). A
Fig. 3. Average carbon footprint (CF) distribution by consumption category in the European Union (EU) (top). The bottom graph depicts the average CF shares by
consumption category and countries of EU top 10% emitters on the left (with CF >15 tCO
eq/cap) and EU bottom 5% of emitters on the right (with CF <2.5 tCO
See SI4 for country averages. EU household weights applied. See Section 2 for country codes.
Global Sustainability 7
Figure 3: The 10th (pink oval), 25th (left box), 50th, average (orange oval), 75th (right box), and 90th
(grey oval) percentiles of per capita household emissions for 26 European countries [47].
explore desirable social outcomes such as income, access to
energy, employment and nutrition. The graphs depict a wide
range of socially desirable outcomes at the same level of CFs.
Income and CFs are strongly positively correlated, as high-
lighted by prior studies (Baiocchi et al.,2010; Ivanova et al.,
2017; Kerkhof et al.,2009; Zhang et al.,2015), with a correlation
coefficient of 0.65 for the whole of the EU. Figure 6 depicts several
country clusters with varying slopes. The cluster with the steepest
slope represent countries such as Estonia and Bulgaria, character-
ized by relatively low income/consumption levels and high carbon
intensities per level of income. The middle cluster captures coun-
tries such as Greece and Czech Republic, with moderate carbon
intensity and higher income levels. The cluster with the flattest
slope consists of the countries with the highest income levels and
lowest carbon intensities, such as Denmark and France. Figure 6
displays a wide variation of CFs at fixed incomes, pointing to the
countries with the highest carbon efficiency per income level.
Similarly, there is a positive association between the CF and
education (as previously suggested; Ivanova et al.,2017), with a
correlation coefficient of 0.54 for the EU. Yet, similarly to income,
there is wide variation in CFs across countries at similar education
levels. A positive, although weaker, association between CFs and
nutrition is noted as well, with a correlation coefficient of 0.35
for the EU. We also note a negative correlation between CFs
and risk of (fuel) poverty and social exclusion, as well as a
weak negative correlation between CFs and living on unemploy-
ment benefits, with a coefficient of 0.22.
Figure 6 depicts associations and should not be interpreted as
low emissions causing social challenges or vice versa.
Consumption is at the root of these strong associations.
Consumption of certain material goods such as food and housing
is necessary for the satisfaction of material and human needs
(Jackson, 2005), such as subsistence and protection and decent
living standards (Rao & Min, 2018). The decarbonization of
these key material goods remains a challenge for sustainability.
4. Discussion
4.1. The distribution of CFs
Here, we aim to inform EU, national and regional sustainability
efforts through providing a distributional perspective on GHG
emissions. Only about 5% of the EU households conform to cli-
mate targets, with CFs below 2.5 tCO
eq/cap. Our results are in
agreement with prior evidence (Bjørn et al.,2018;ONeill et al.,
2018) that substantial decarbonization of consumption is needed
to ensure a good life within planetary boundaries. With an aver-
age CF in Europe of 7.5 tCO
eq/cap (Ivanova et al.,2020), there is
a need to reduce the GHG intensity of consumption by a factor of
3 or more to meet climate targets (Bjørn et al.,2018).
The EU top 1% emit 55 tCO
eq/cap on average, more than
22 times the 2.5-tonne target. Aviation particularly stands out,
with a substantial carbon contribution and the highest expend-
iture elasticities for the highest emitters. The EU top 1% of house-
holds have an average CF share associated with air travel of 41%,
making air travel the consumption category with the highest car-
bon contribution among the top emitters. Package holidays and
air transport are luxury items with high energy intensity
(Oswald et al.,2020); at the same time, they receive extremely
low policy attention, with only 1% of policies targeting aviation
(Dubois et al.,2019). This lack of policy focus on high-carbon
polluting activities of high-income actors who have both high
responsibility and capacity for climate change mitigation raises
substantial ethical and equity concerns.
Fig. 2. Distribution of carbon footprints per capita (on the left) and percentage of households below 2.5 tCO
eq/cap (on the right) by country. Countries are ordered
by average carbon footprint per capita (orange circles), from the lowest to the highest. The boxes describe 25th percentiles (left hinge), median and 75th percentiles
(right hinge), and the whiskers describe the minimum and the maximum in the absence of outside values. The pink and grey circles describe the 10th and 90th
percentiles in each country, respectively. See Section 2 for country codes.
6 Diana Ivanova and Richard Wood
Figure 4: The 2010 consumption-based carbon footprint of EU household in 5 different quantiles and 7
different areas of consumption [47].
CHAPTER 6 Global carbon inequality
The reform was introduced at the same time
as a suppression of the progressive wealth
tax on financial assets and capital incomes
(which would create around 3-4 billion euros
of tax cuts, essentially concentrated among
the top 1-2% of the wealth distribution). This
reform was immediately opposed by the
majority of the population. Many low and
middle income households had to pay the
carbon tax every day in order to go to work,
having no alternative to using their cars,
while tax cuts were given to the very rich,
living in cities, with low-carbon transport
options, who also benefit from very low
energy tax rates when they travel by plane.
This situation triggered a wave of social
protests (which eventually spread to other
European countries) and eventually led to
the abandonment of the carbon tax.
In principle, a carbon tax can be a powerful
tool to reduce emissions. In some countries,
it has been implemented successfully
and has contributed to limiting carbon
emissions. However, the French example
shows that when carbon policies are
Figure 6.10abcd Per capita emissions by income group and reduction requirements to meet Paris Agreement targets in the US,
France, India, and China
Average GHG
21.1 tonnes per
person per year
74. 7
Emissions (tonnes CO2e per capita per year)
Emissions (tonnes CO2e per capita per year)
On average, emissions
are projected to decrease
by 11.1 tonnes per capita
by 2030
11.1 tonnes
per capita
0.3 tonnes per
capita (3%)
12 tonnes
per capita
Reduction: 64.7 tonnes
per capita (-87%)
Per capita emissions by income group in the US,
2019 estimates
Emissions reduction requirement
to meet Paris Agreement 2030 targets in the US
Average GHG
8.7 tonnes per
person per year
Emissions (tonnes CO2e per capita per year)
Emissions (tonnes CO2e per capita per year)
On average, emissions
are projected to decrease
by 3.9 tonnes per capita
by 2030
3.9 tonnes
per capita
0.2 tonnes per
capita (-3%)
4.5 tonnes
per capita
Reduction: 19.9 tonnes
per capita (-61%)
Per capita emissions by income group in France,
2019 estimates
Emissions reduction requirement
to meet Paris Agreement 2030 targets in France
Figure 5: The emissions reductions for different income groups to meet Paris Agreement targets [16]. It is
remarked in [16] that Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have similar carbon inequality levels to the US.
The household emissions of the top 1% of EU households, 55 tonnes per person, may
seem like a lot, but it is confirmed by other studies. Chancel and Piketty [70] found that
the top 1% of Americans emit 318 tonnes CO2e each per year. They put the emissions
of the top 1% globally at 56 tonnes a year. (These figures are higher than those of than
Ivanova and Wood, because they include all emissions and all income, not just those tagged
to household consumption.)
The extremely skewed distribution of air travel is also reported by G¨ossling and Humpe
[33]. They find that in any given year 1% of the world’s population are extremely frequent
flyers, emitting 10 tonnes CO2each on average and causing half of all aviation emissions;
another 10% fly less and emit 1 tonne CO2; and the remaining 89% do not fly at all. People
with access to one of the world’s 22,000 private jets could be associated with emissions of
7500 tonnes each. Even in rich countries like the US and Germany, and rich islands like
Taiwan, less than half the population flies in any particular year.
A 2020 Oxfam report reaches a similar conclusion [31]. Oxfam find that the richest 1%
globally have emissions of 74 tonnes of CO2per person on average, adding up to 15% of
all emissions.
Although we may think of this as a rich country–poor country issue, a study by the
World Inequality Lab, a global network of 100 researchers, found that inequalities within
countries now represent the bulk of global emissions inequality [16]. The emissions reduc-
tions for different income groups to meet Paris Agreement targets are shown in Figure
David Banister’s Inequality in Transport [6] explores inequality in all forms of transport
in the UK. He writes,
Table 3: Average household greenhouse gas emissions, in tonnes CO2e per person for New Zealand [77]
the EU [47].
NZ 2017 EU 2010
Food 2.5 1.3
Housing 1.4 2.6
Clothing 0.24 0.6
Services 0.5 0.5
Manufactured products 0.95 1.0
Land travel 2.3 2.4
Air travel 1.0 0.5
Total 8.9 8.9
This figure of about a half of the adult population flying in any one year does
not seem to have changed over the 10 year period (2002–2012). The growth
in air travel appears to be coming from those who are already travelling and
from this it can be inferred that passenger growth in recent years is coming at
least as much from an increased flying frequency by those that do fly, as from
a diminishing pool of non-fliers.
13.2 Application to New Zealand
Statistics New Zealand have calculated consumption emissions by household for 2017 [77].
They only report the average, not the distribution, which should be kept in mind when
comparing their figures to the EU study until distributional data for New Zealand is avail-
able. Summary data is shown in Table 3.
The median take-home income in New Zealand is $41,500 per person, or adjusted for
purchasing power, ¤19,300, above the UK and above the EU median of ¤17,300, and
similar to Ireland and Finland.
One way to measure income distribution is by the ratio of the total income of the richest
20% to the total income of the poorest 20%. For New Zealand, this ratio is 5.6. For the
UK is is 6.1, for Germany 4.4, and for the EU as a whole it is 5.0.
Therefore, a preliminary estimate is that the emissions of New Zealand households are
distributed very unequally. Given our high air travel emissions, and the high elasticity
of air travel amongst rich people, it is likely that New Zealand’s top 1% and top 10% of
households have very high emissions.
A second viewpoint considers New Zealand in light of global income distribution [70, 16].
A take-home income of $75,000 per person falls into the top 1% globally, which, as we have
seen, have emissions of 56 tonnes per person. In New Zealand, 12.3% of households reach
that income level. New Zealand’s top 5% (take-home income of $100K per person) have
similar purchasing power to the top 5% in the richer European countries ( ¤50K). This
also points to distributions similar to those found in the EU.
The implication is that other things being equal, an increase in inequality will be
associated with an increase in flying, and in increase in GDP will be associated with a
disproportionate increase in flying.
The discussion so far centres on inequality with respect to income or expenditure. As
pointed out by Gebresselassie [28], many other factors are relevant: race and ethnicity,
bodily ability, civic status, and age. For New Zealand we could add our location, our
internal geography, our overall approach to transport planning and provision, our very
high rates of immigration and emigration leading to globally-dispersed families, the Treaty
of Waitangi, and our relationship with the Pacific. The relative inequality of aviation
compared to other forms of transport and to other sources of greenhouse gas emissions is
also relevant: an industry that more heavily serves the rich is less defendable that one that
serves people more equally.
Nielsen et al. [65] study the role of high socio-economic status (SES) people in the
climate crisis, writing
High-SES status people often lead hypermobile lives, travelling by air for private
and work-related purposes induced by income, business travel paid for by em-
ployers and expectations associated with status, work and ownership of multiple
homes. Although the behavioural plasticity of air travel is under-researched, it
may be substantial for high-SES people given the likelihood that the marginal
benefits of each flight are lower for them than for lower-SES people who may
fly only rarely to visit family. Changing social norms around hypermobility
therefore appear to be an important potential lever to decrease GHG emissions
from air travel.
They also consider that high-SES people affect the climate crisis and society’s response
to it more ways than just through their consumption, as in the example of air travel: as
investors (“Efforts to support climate-compatible investing need to more narrowly target
the highest-income investors, who control a large portion of the market and to date have
been slow to change”), role models (e.g. through media exposure and the glamorisation of
high-SES people), as owners and managers of organisations, and through lobbying.
Similarly, Cohen et al. [22] have described how travel is “glamorised by a range of social
mechanisms, such as visualisations on social media that encourage mobility competition,
frequent flyer programme status levels and the mass media and travel industry who depict
tourism and business travel as desirable.”
Our conclusion from this short survey is that inequality and fairness are one of the
central issues in addressing aviation emissions.
13.3 Suggested responses
The authors of the studies cited have some suggestions.
Oxfam [31] call for
special taxes or bans for high carbon luxury goods and services; wider car-
bon prices with pro-poor revenue recycling; broader income and wealth re-
distribution; or challenging stereotypes that promote growth and individual
consumerism as normal, desirable, ‘powerful’ and ‘masculine’. . . such measures
may lead to a broader ‘social tipping point’ that makes reductions by other rel-
atively high emitters more acceptable, challenges the political influence of high
emitters, and sparks wider shifts in social, gendered and racial norms about
endless consumption.
ossling [33] writes:
Emissions Trading Schemes are inappropriate for a sector in which the distri-
bution of air transport demand and associated emissions is more highly skewed
than in other areas of consumption. From a market-based viewpoint, a mod-
est increase in the cost of air travel will not affect business travelers, who are
causing disproportionally high emissions. . . [we] need to develop more complex
transition policies for aviation.
Ivanova and Wood [47]:
The contributions of land and air transport are disproportionally large among
the top emitters. As land transport and, even more so, air transport are both
highly carbon intensive and highly elastic, we would argue that significantly
more needs to be done in these domains. Action here is likely to affect those
with the highest footprints, incomes and expenditures most, but impacts on
low-income groups are also key, as they have significant expenditure shares on
land transport.
Overconsumption and materialistic practices are not only damaging for the
environment, but may also reduce psychological well-being. In order to re-
duce trade-offs between social and environmental goals, policies should target
changes in higher-order need satisfiers, such as social structures and practices,
and reimagine forms of need satisfaction within environmental constraints.
Chancel et al. [16] suggest a global progressive carbon tax for above-average emitters, to
fund climate initiatives globally, or, failing that (for they acknowledge this is unlikely),
progressive income taxes, or a global tax on air tickets of about ¤20 per 1000 km:
Social movements in rich and emerging countries in 2018-2019 (including waves
of protests against hikes in fuel and transport prices in Ecuador or Chile in
2019, and the Yellow Vest movements in Europe one year earlier) showed that
policy reforms which do not properly factor in the degree of inequality in a
country, and the winners and losers of these reforms, are unlikely to be publicly
supported and are likely to fail. . . the scale of transformation required to cut
greenhouse gas emissions drastically in rich countries cannot be attained if
environmental and social inequalities are not integrated into the very design of
environmental policies.
One dimension which has been largely left aside by climate policies around the
globe is addressing the large carbon footprints of the very wealthy. To accelerate
carbon emissions reductions among the wealthiest, progressive carbon taxes can
become a useful instrument. Progressive carbon taxation means that the rate
of a carbon tax increases with the level of emissions or the level of wealth of
individuals. Chancel and Piketty [70] made proposals along these lines, and also
proposed specific taxes on luxury carbon-intensive consumption items. These
can include business class tickets, yachts, etc.
Ralph Chapman, writing in a briefing paper for the OECD, writes [18]:
Governments, both nationally and locally, seeking to constrain emissions of the
population as a whole will in some form have to face the question of what they
propose doing to regulate the very high emissions of the well-off, while at the
same time ensuring that the transition process does not leave vulnerable groups
worse off. One perspective on this is that dealing with the justice aspects of
climate change is a pre-condition for proceeding in a responsible way with the
climate transition. However, a rigid rhetorical position on this could stymie
climate action. A perhaps more pragmatic position is that in any emergency,
such as wartime, greater material sacrifices are expected of those with greater
resources, and progressive taxation to finance mitigation investment is justified
The problem is not just that the high emitters have to pay more towards the transi-
tion, even more as a proportion of their income: that position is broadly accepted and is
implemented in progressive income taxes. The harder problem is that they actually have
to reduce their emissions. Ivanova and Wood [47] regard a target of 2.5 tonnes per person
by 2030 as consistent with the Paris agreement. That means average emissions falling by
70%. But the bottom half of emitters can’t reduce by very much at all, which means the
top half have to do more. The situation is particularly extreme in aviation: only flyers can
reduce their aviation emissions.
14 Flying less
For surely there is no square mile of earth’s inhabitable surface that is not
beautiful in its own way, if we men will only abstain from wilfully destroying
that beauty; and it is this reasonable share in the beauty of the earth that I
claim as the right of every man who will earn it by due labour; a decent house
with decent surroundings for every honest and industrious family; that is the
claim which I make of you in the name of art. Is it such an exorbitant claim
to make of civilization? of a civilization that is too apt to boast in after-dinner
speeches; too apt to thrust her blessings on far-off peoples at the cannon’s
mouth before she has improved the quality of those blessings so far that they
are worth having at any price, even the smallest.
William Morris, 1881 [59]
There is a good deal of a consensus as to what manner of things are wasteful.
The brute fact that the word is current shows that. Without something of a
consensus on that head, the word would not be intelligible; that is to say, we
should have no such word. . . . It is because men’s notions of the generically
human, of what is the legitimate end of life, does not differ incalculably from
man to man that men are able to live in communities and to hold common
Thorstein Veblen, 1934 [82]
Veblen (who coined the terms “conspicuous consumption” and “vested interests”) had
a long-running interest in waste and wasteful consumption. As remarked by Mitchell
[58] , Veblen’s “treatment of a consumer-oriented society based on reckless waste by profit-
hungry corporations underpins the root causes of environmental degradation and pollution,
a premise even more applicable in today’s global context of rapid environmental and so-
cioeconomic change.” However, most modern economists and policymakers do not engage
in the question of what consumption is luxurious, wasteful, or unnecessary [79]. On the
other hand, some go further and argue that overconsumption is built in to capitalism,
and that therefore reducing emissions will require significant changes in work, production,
consumption, advertising, and social norms [78].
The widespread realization of ecological overshoot and its catastrophic consequences,
as well as humanity’s acceleration of unsustainable resource use when confronted with the
reality of climate change, has prompted a wide range of responses. (See, e.g., the recent
presentation of Murphy et al. [62].) One framework is the “degrowth” movement, which
calls for a decrease in global resource consumption until it reaches sustainable levels. (See
Boston [10] for a comparison between green growth and degrowth.)
We focus here on an emerging body of work [36] that seeks to quantify the resource
and energy use required for a commonly agreed decent standard of living. For exam-
ple, Millward-Hopkins et al. [55] describe a lifestyle involving 5000–15000 km of an-
nual travel per person, of which 1000 km is by air, and total energy consumption of
just 15 GJ/person/year, one-twelfth of New Zealand’s present primary supply of 180
Akenji et al. [1] consider pathways that meet the required household emissions bud-
gets under a 1.5 C scenario. These see household emissions falling to 2.5 tCO2/person
by 2030 and to 0.7 tCO2/person by 2050—a major challenge for New Zealand, currently
on 8.9 tCO2/person, as it is for other developed countries. It is argued that technological
improvements in the emission-intensity of goods and services must be accompanied with
major lifestyle changes towards reduced consumption. Reducing consumption has coben-
efits, including regenerating biodiversity and safeguarding ecosystems. The extraction of
materials, which rose from 27 billion tonnes a year globally in 1970 to 92 billion tonnes in
2017, and which continues to increase exponentially, must instead contract. The authors
argue for a wellbeing economy that [1]
fosters true quality of life factors such as a purposeful life, health care, healthy
ecosystems and a stable climate, safe conditions in the workplace, education,
and access to and participation in cultural activities and family life. The pan-
demic has shown us how important the above true quality of life factors are,
no matter where we live. Countless research has shown that the priority given
in contemporary society to growth at all cost, to profitability, and material
consumption has not materialized in greater collective well-being or individual
happiness for most.
The report adopts an “avoid, shift, improve” framework and studies policy options that
could achieve them, including choice editing (removing the harmful consumption options),
a social guarantee for fair consumption meeting human needs, sufficient levels for decent
living, and carbon rationing. These are applied to food, housing, transport, goods, and
services, with case studies of 10 countries.
In the UK, the “Jump” campaign asks people to sign up to six key
lifestyle changes, one of which is to limit flights to one short-haul (<1500 km) return flight
every three years, or one long haul return flight every eight years, levels derived from a
study of urban lifestyles compatible with 1.5 C.
Applying the “avoid, shift, improve” framework to New Zealand aviation would likely
reveal that the greatest opportunities lie in “avoid”. “Shift” also has a role in domestic avi-
ation, for example by improving land-based low-carbon public transport. In contrast, the
aviation industry and current international policy development is almost entirely focussed
on “improve”. As we have learned from Covid, it is possible to avoid most international
air travel with unexpected ease, whereas avoiding such a large proportion of emissions so
quickly from food, housing, and goods and services without disastrous side-effects would
be impossible.
Baled´on et al. [7] and Higham et al. [39] examine aviation in light of the UN Sustain-
able Development Goals, noting that ICAO and the aviation industry claim that aviation
contributes positively to almost all of the SDGs yet ignore the two most important factors,
growth and emissions. Higham writes:
. . . aviation is deeply embedded in not only the economic, but also the social,
functions of global capitalism. Because air transport is so “tightly bound up
with the reproduction and expansion of capitalist societies”, there has been a
reluctance to act on the environmental impacts of aviation. Rather than con-
front the problem of aviation emissions, the macro-level sociotechnical regime
has been consciously developed to perpetuate growth in air travel. The aviation
transport system serves as a public good that is simultaneously consumed by
multiple actors (e.g., governments, corporations, exporters, and leisure travel-
ers), both for productive (indirect) and final (direct) consumption.
It is difficult to define what flights, or what level of aviation, is considered ‘essential’.
The factor that air travel is a luxury good (i.e., its elasticity is greater than 1, averaging
1.5 in the EU [47] and 2–2.7 amongst upper income groups, but nearly zero amongst lower
income groups) is one guide. Secondly, we consider the Ng¯a T¯utohu Aotearoa wellbeing
indicators monitored by Statistics New Zealand, following international guidelines. While
81% of the population reported high overall life satisfaction in 2018, this rose to 84–86%
in 2020–21, during a time when international travel was almost impossible (international
passenger numbers fell 97.6% in the year to March 2021 compared to the previous year.)
“High family wellbeing” rose from 83% in 2018 to 84–85% in 2020–21. A further measure,
on ‘leisure’, is under development: it will measure people’s amount of leisure time and their
satisfaction with their amount of leisure time. It seems unlikely that international travel
will impact on this score. Under the Material Wellbeing Index, ability to have a holiday
away from home once a year scores one point (out of 35 points in total).
Cass et al. [20], in a study for Oxford University’s Centre for Research into Energy De-
mand Solutions, consider the role of curbing excess energy consumption in a fair transition.
After comparing ten possible definitions of ‘excess’, they conclude that
excess is whatever people can agree it is, based on ideas of ‘fairness’ and ‘just’
levels of consumption that can be rationalised, defended, and justified to oth-
ers. . . any policies that are used to target excess consumption and excessive
consumers must be similarly reasonable and justifiable, based on the principles
of deliberative democracy and exploring options, impacts, and fairness with
members of the public.
For aviation, they write that
it would be both more effective and equitable to curb high-end consumption
and consumption of luxury items such as flights than to target necessities across
the whole income spectrum. . . . Since air travel is so unequally distributed in
society, any increase in aviation costs would be progressive in the sense of
impacting those with more wealth. From that perspective, it seems socially
unjust that aviation fuel remains untaxed, compared to domestic or motor fuels.
However, higher aviation costs would still have an impact on the infrequent
flights of the less wealthy. A frequent flyer tax would have more progressive
and fairer distributional impacts.
They explore these ideas through interviews with people living in high-consumption house-
Other research from the Centre emphasizes the importance of demand reduction in
meeting net zero targets, concluding: [8]
Meeting carbon budgets aligned with net-zero by 2050 without substantial re-
ductions in energy demand is extremely difficult and undesirable. . . Reducing
energy service demand is particularly useful in “hard to mitigate” sectors such
as steel production, aviation and agriculture.
Chapman et al. [17] report on a UK survey that found that a frequent flyer levy was
preferred over all other suggested options (a tax on jet fuel, a limit to total flying, VAT on
tickets, and doing nothing); they analyse the impact of a pricing scheme which combines
an ETS charge with a frequent flyer levy.
A large survey of public support for aviation policy measures in Sweden [49] found
that perceptions of whether a policy is fair and effective were by far the most important
The UK Citizen’s Climate Assembly considered aviation in detail. From fourteen pos-
sible policy options, the four that had more than 40% support from the assembly were
to speed up technological solutions (53%), influence the rest of the world (50%), improve
non-flying alternatives (50%), and that frequent flyers and those who fly further should
pay more (44%). A modest growth, high-tech aviation future was the first choice of 39%;
low- or degrowth futures (–17% to 25% growth by 2050) were the first choice of 58%. A
future with 63% aviation growth by 2050 was the first choice of 3% of the participants.
(Recall that the IATA forecasts traffic growth of 120% worldwide).
The French Citizen’s Assembly for Climate recommended by an 88% majority to in-
crease carbon charges on air travel, to prohibit airport expansion, to ban domestic flights
where a train alternative of less than four hours is available, to offset all remaining emis-
sions, and to support R&D into biofuels.
This suggests that when presented with detailed information about the impact of flying
and possible ways to address it, and having considered these in detail, the public include
pricing measures and demand restraint in their preferred solutions. This was a factor in
the view of the UK CCC that restraining demand growth would not be difficult.
15 What is a fair share for aviation emissions?
There is no universally agreed approach to this question.
One possible avenue follows the carbon budgets of the IPCC [42]. Taking the remaining
global carbon budgets for 1.5 C (resp. 1.7 C, 2 C), and allocating aviation 2.4% of global
CO2, leaves a carbon budget of 52 (resp. 91, 149) MtCO2.
In 2019, New Zealand was responsible for 0.54% of global aviation emissions. (cf. 0.07%
of global population and 0.10% of global CO2). Retaining this share and assuming aviation
recovers to 2019 levels by 2024 before reducing by 50% (resp. 100%, 150%) by 2050, would
see the carbon budget for 1.5 C exhausted by the early to mid 2030s in all three scenarios
(see Fig. 6). However, reducing emissions by 150% would meet the 1.5C budget on
average in the 2040s.
However, there is no clear justification for a 2019 baseline, which would act to grand-
father in the very rapid increases of the late 2010s. The Paris Agreement acknowledges
the principles of fairness, responsibility, and capability, and calls for the highest ambition.
Adopting a 1990 baseline, when New Zealand was responsible for 0.41% of global aviation
emissions, would reduce its aviation carbon budget by a quarter, leaving just 39 MtCO2
for 1.5 C.
Under the carbon budget approach, very sharp reductions in emissions are needed.
However, earlier action—especially in the 2020s—makes meeting the budgets easier. En-
suring that 2019 levels are never regained would make meeting carbon budgets significantly
Fairness towards future generations points towards relying as little as possible on carbon
sequestration (whether by forestry or CCS) and focussing on absolute emissions reductions.
Fairness to all New Zealanders requires taking the (at present) highly unequal distri-
bution of air travel, and the luxury and inessential nature of some air travel, into account,
implying that aviation emissions should reduce more rapidly than other, more equal and
more essential sectors.
In place of these considerations, the dominant narrative thus far has been that, first,
aviation is “hard to abate”; second, that it should be allowed to grow and to consume an
ever larger share of gross emissions; and third, that it should not be subject to the “polluter
pays” principle. However, it is difficult to find detailed arguments for the connections
between these three things, involving, for example, comparisons with other “hard to abate”
sectors like metals, cement, and car dependency, their role in sustainability and wellbeing,
and the availability of substitutes. Instead the aviation industry provides assertions (“The
necessity and value of aviation to New Zealand’s economy and to New Zealanders cannot
be over-stated” [64]) and slogans (“aviation is the business of freedom” (IATA)).
The experience of Covid indicates that even an almost complete stop to international
aviation had surprisingly little effect on the economy (GDP grew 3.4% from 2019 to 2021)
or, as we have seen, effects on wellbeing. However, there are confounding effects for both
of these, namely government economic stimulus, social solidarity, and knowledge of the
health risks of travel. Substitutes including telecommunications, domestic tourism, and
2025 2030 2035 2040 2045 2050
Cumulative CO2 emissions, million tonnes
1.7 ºC
1.5 ºC
-50% by 2050
-100% by 2050
-150% by 2050
Figure 6: Idealized pathways for future cumulative CO2emissions from New Zealand aviation, 2020–2050.
The model assumes that emissions are 50% below 2019 levels in 2020–2022, 25% below in 2023, and return
to 2019 levels in 2024 before they start reducing linearly. The dashed lines show the carbon budgets under
two global temperature targets and constant shares of aviation emissions globally and nationally.
local tourism were adopted. The natural experiment of Covid restrictions could repay a
more detail study.
Taken together, these considerations imply that a naive “net zero by 2050” pathway,
heavily reliant on offsetting and nonexistent technology, would not sufficiently fair or am-
bitious for New Zealand.
16 Conclusions
The three main factors that will affect aviation emissions over the next 30 years are effi-
ciency, alternative fuels, and total travel. There is reasonable agreement that zero-emission
aircraft will play a limited role in this time span.
Efficiency gains are to be encouraged, and there is reasonable agreement that some
gains can be expected. They could be encouraged by carbon pricing, by an SAF mandate,
or by banning the operation of high-emission aircraft models.
There is wide disagreement over the potential for alternative fuels and for the speed
with which they can be supplied. Proposals for SAF vary widely (see Table 4). Many
rely on technology which is not yet in commercial use, which makes estimating costs and
risks difficult. The lifecycle emissions and renewable energy inputs to produce the fuels
are also uncertain. And of course, the amount of SAF required depends on the amount of
fuel required, i.e., on aircraft efficiency and total distance travelled. The total resources
required for high growth, high SAF scenarios are very significant.
Total travel also varies widely in the different pathways. The high growth scenarios are
Table 4: The eleven proposals or estimates discussed in the text. The UK CCC data is their ‘Balanced Net
Zero’ pathway; IEA and BP data are their net zero models. The ICCT estimate is based on the potential
maximum technology and feedstock supply. The SAF proportions do not take into account the lifecycle
emissions of the fuels (e.g. land use, processing, infrastructure, renewable energy).
Scope Study Proposed SAF proportion Traffic growth by 2050
EU Fit for 55 20% by 2035, 63% by 2050
EU ICCT 20% by 2035
UK Jet Zero 14% by 2050 54%
UK CCC 25% by 2050 25%
UK Absolute Zero 100%
world IEA 50% by 2040, 78% by 2050 70%
world BP 60% by 2050 80%
world IATA 65% by 2050 120%
world Kl¨ower 95% by 2050 110%
world Kl¨ower 0 50%
New Zealand Air NZ 86% by 2050 75%
dubious for a number of reasons.
1. They rely on significant amounts of offsetting (which is not sustainable in the long
term) or permanent carbon dioxide sequestration (which is unproved at commercial
2. They rely to some degree on technological solutions, which may not be available
quickly enough.
3. They have not been found to be consistent with the Paris Agreement, nor to demon-
strate its principles, including fairness, responsibility, capability, and highest ambi-
4. They do not take into account the need to reduce fossil fuel burning drastically in
the coming decade.
5. They rely on a naive interpretation of the claim that aviation is “hard to abate”
which has not been sufficiently justified or interrogated—for example, by comparing
to other sectors which are also challenging technologically. As things stand, climate
safety points towards phasing out “hard to abate” sectors where possible.
6. Other things being equal, a net zero pathway with high growth will result in greater
total emissions than a net zero pathway with low or negative growth. Under a finite
carbon budget, it is the total emissions that are relevant, not the endpoint.
7. A net zero pathway with high growth involves devoting greater total resources (of
renewable energy, land, and construction of SAF facilities) than a pathway with low
or negative growth. In a transition in which all of these resources are constrained,
there is a need to prioritise resources.
8. The high-growth scenarios, which generally show a continued acceleration of growth
continuing past 2050, do not address fundamental questions of sustainability, even if
net zero were to be reached.
9. They do not take into account the distribution of aviation and its resulting implica-
tions for climate justice.
We have surveyed a range of factors which should be considered as New Zealand pre-
pares an “ambitious and concrete national action plan to reduce aviation emissions” this
The past two years have seen a virtual revolution in the international context as nu-
merous international bodies have aligned behind a vision of net zero aviation by 2050.
The main areas of difference between industry- and non-industry-led scenarios is that
the former involve more growth—indeed, they often consider growth rates as given and
not as a key variable—and reject emissions pricing. Some industry proposals seek govern-
ment funding and subsidies. Some also reject regulation and rely on voluntary action and
aspirational goals.
While pricing international aviation is difficult, which would by itself tend to point
more towards regulation of emissions, some jurisdictions are now starting to consider it.
We anticipate that, as in many other sectors, a combination of pricing and complementary
policies will be needed [37].
We conclude that a national action plan should include consideration of the following
1. Adoption of the “avoid, shift, improve” framework;
2. emissions pricing and the “polluter pays” principle;
3. where pricing is not achievable, regulation of emissions and emissions intensity;
4. the non-CO2effects of aviation;
5. the distribution of flying in a climate justice perspective;
6. the availability of substitutes, and the national strategies for those substitutes (e.g.,
regional public transport);
7. coordination with the tourist industry;
8. the rate of growth or degrowth;
9. the role of airports;
10. timely implementation;
11. emphasis on proven technologies, such as using the most efficient existing aircraft
filled as much as possible;
12. the lifecycle emissions and resource requirements of SAF, including land use, renew-
able energy, and facility construction;
13. a fair share for aviation emissions with reference to the whole population and econ-
omy, not just to frequent flyers and the aviation industry; and
14. the transition to true sustainability respecting the rights of future generations.
Two key events of the past half decade reinforce the urgency of the task. The first is the
proven ability of the New Zealand aviation industry to increase emissions at a staggering
rate when unregulated, as observed from 2015 to 2019; the second is Covid. Ensuring that
aviation emissions remain permanently well below 2019 levels requires urgent action, but
would make the longer-term task significantly easier.
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... Because technology innovation alone is unlikely to reduce emissions in line with decarbonization goals (McLachlan & Callister, 2022;Peeters et al., 2016), this article focuses on consumer demand choices. Several factors influence consumer demand. ...
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