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Recommendations for calculation of the global warming potential of aviation including the radiative forcing index

  • Niels JungbluthEmail author
  • Christoph Meili
COMMENTARY AND DISCUSSION ARTICLE

Abstract

Purpose

There are specific effects of emissions in high altitude, which lead to a higher contribution of aviation to the problem of climate change than just the emission of CO2 from burning fuels. The exact relevance is subject to scientific debate, but there is a consensus that aircrafts have an impact that is higher than just their contribution due to the direct CO2 emissions. The gap between this scientific knowledge on the one side and the missing of applicable GWP (global warming potential) factors for relevant emissions on the other side are an important shortcoming for life cycle assessment (LCA) or carbon footprint (CF) studies which aim to cover all relevant environmental impacts of the transport services investigated.

Methods

In this paper, the state of the art concerning the accounting for the specific effects of aircraft emissions in LCA and CF studies is discussed. Therefore, the relevant literature was evaluated, and practitioners were asked for the approaches used by them.

Results and discussion

Five major approaches are identified ranging from an RFI (radiative forcing index) factor of 1 (no factor at all) to a factor 2.7 for the total aircraft CO2 emissions. If only emissions in the higher atmosphere are considered, RFI factors between 1 and 8.5 are used or proposed in practice.

Conclusions

For the time being, an RFI of 2 on total aircraft CO2 (or 5.2 for the CO2 emissions in the higher atmosphere if using present models in ecoinvent) is recommended to be used in LCA and CF studies because it is based on the latest scientific publications; this basic literature cannot be misinterpreted. Furthermore, it is also recommended by some political institutions. These factors can be multiplied by the direct CO2 emissions of the aircraft to estimate the total global warming potential.

Keywords

Aircraft Aviation Climate change Global warming potential Radiative forcing index Transport services 

Notes

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1556_MOESM2_ESM.docx (41 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 40 kb)
11367_2018_1556_MOESM1_ESM.csv (41 kb)
ESM 2 (CSV 40 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ESU-services Ltd.SchaffhausenSwitzerland

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