Unfortunately, while average CO2 emissions per aircraft have been more than cut in half, the fleet of business jet aircraft has increased from about 1,150 in the late sixties to about 19,000 in 2008. Thus, the overall CO2 emissions from business aviation have increased from about 1.0 to 2.0 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year in the late 1960s to between 15 and 20 million tonnes per year today. A metric tonne equals 2,204 pounds and is the common unit of measure in the world of CO2 emissions.
While that is a large number it is important to put it in context. According to the Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), general aviation (including business aviation) represents about 2% of the CO2 emissions generated by all of aviation. And all of aviation represents about 2% of the total annual man-made CO2 emissions. In short, general aviation generates only about 0.04% of all man-made CO2 emissions.
Many of those who believe that CO2 emissions make a significant contribution to global warming also believe that those who generate this CO2 should pay for its mitigation. At present there are no laws or regulations that require this in the US. However, to assist those that feel strongly about this, a number of organizations have set up a mechanism whereby individuals or companies can purchase "carbon offsets". Typically the proceeds from these carbon offsets are used to finance various projects that increase renewable energy resources (e.g. building wind farms) or increase energy efficiency (e.g. installation of insulation) or destroy various pollutants (e.g. plant trees to absorb CO2).
The cost of carbon offsets range from about $15 to about $40 per metric tonne of CO2 and average about $20 per metric tonne. The impact of these offsets on the cost of operation for an aircraft is relatively small - averaging about $0.20 per gallon. Thus, for a business jet flying 400 hours per year, our newly developed CO2 Calculator shows that the total annual cost of buying carbon offsets for this aircraft will range from $10,000 for a small CJ1 class aircraft to $35,000 for a G550 type aircraft.
The beta version Aircraft CO2 Calculator is available through our Member’s Area: Click here to get the C02 Calculator
While currently this is voluntary, the "carbon cap and trade" plan that is included in the proposed 2010 US budget will make payment for carbon offset costs mandatory. In addition, the EU has already adopted such legislation that will require carbon offset payments starting in 2012.
In a future article we'll talk more about carbon offsets as well as more details and the likely impact of "cap and trade" legislation on business aviation.