THE BLOG
08/01/2013 04:01 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2013

Aviation Climate Pollution Flying Under the Radar

Climate change pollution from the airline industry is massive. Each plane that takes off emits about the same amount of carbon as 3,500 cars.

If you've ever sat at an airport, there's a lot of planes coming and going and you start to get the idea of just how much climate pollution the airline industry is responsible for. If no action is taken soon to begin reducing emissions from airplanes, experts say that emissions could quadruple by 2050.

While there is a lot of focus deservedly being put on other large climate polluters like the tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, there will shortly be made some very big decisions about the future of airline emissions.

In early September, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), who is responsible for managing greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation, will be making an important decision about the fate of airplane pollution worldwide. To date, ICAO hasn't done much, but that all could change in the first week of September when ICAO is expected to put forward a recommendation that the airline industry adopt a global market-based system that will ultimately put a cap on the airline industry's climate pollution in the very near future.

This is huge and a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Environmental Defense Fund, shows that the price tag to the airline industry is startlingly small.

The report finds that airline companies could buy high-integrity carbon credits already available in the world's carbon trading systems for as little as $4 a tonne of CO2. Basically this means, that while the airline industry continues to work on how to make flying more efficient, they can be buying into projects like new investments in wind and solar energy projects that could not be built without these carbon credits.

It is a win-win in many ways and seems like a bit of a no-brainer for the airline industry. The industry itself has been calling for a global market-based system and this report looks like the industry can do it in a reasonable timeline, at a reasonable price.

Of course, the devil is in the details, especially around the issue of what is defined as a "high quality" carbon offset -- meaning that what the airline invests in to offset carbon, actually takes carbon out of the air forever. At the end of the day, Mother Nature isn't an accountant and only works in reality.

Hopefully, ICAO and the airline industry makes the right decision in September and start to take responsibility for their massive contribution to the issue of climate change and atmospheric disruption.