“Cut emissions from coal and cars and save thousands of American lives. Who wouldn’t support that? If the federal government won’t act, our cities and states will. I’m looking for new climate pledges across the U.S.” – Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.
For more context, I live in Lagos, Nigeria, a city with a coastline of 450km and very close to sea level. A few months ago, Lagos had experienced long hours of rain which led to the flooding of several parts of the city. I was stuck in traffic for over two hours and drenched as a result of overflooding.
Even my apartment’s roof was leaking due to the intensity of the rain which lasted a week. But this was not the first time it happened. This desire set me on a quest to inquire into one of the causes of climate change in the world, namely carbon emissions. From an aviation perspective I ask these tangible questions:
Is humanity running a race against time? Will they win it? This is a question that should run through our minds as the race to cut greenhouse gases by about 50% by 2030 is already before us. That’s if we ever get to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, a whopping 29 years from now.
A 2018 article encouraging people to stop flying revealed that air travel contributes about 1 gigaton of CO2 to the Earth’s atmosphere each year. Similarly, another publication strongly believes that a 4000-mile flight would amount to the emission of 20,000 gallons of fuel.
It said, “Let’s start with a look at the most famous of jets, the Boeing 747. The Boeing website states that this model, with a gas tank capacity of 63,500 gallons, may burn five gallons of jet fuel per mile of flight. A 4,000-mile flight, then, requires 20,000 gallons of fuel. Divided among roughly 400 passengers, that’s 50 gallons of fuel to move each person aboard from, say, Chicago to London.”
The research drawing from FlightStats, an online air travel stat source, estimated an average of 90,000 flights takes off every day. Using the 747 rates of five gallons per mile, it arrived at a rough estimate of 740 million gallons of fuel burned daily by aeroplanes.
ETA, an online platform, argues that air travel causes more pollution than just CO2. According to the site, water vapour at high levels forms thin clouds that have a warming effect as the visible trails can be sighted blanketing the earth which is deadlier than the effect of carbon dioxide.
Globally, AirFrance- KLM and Emirates have performed convincing trials on the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel in a bid to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This is based on information I gathered from their website.
SAF is produced from sustainable feedstocks and is very similar in its chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel and helps to reduce carbon emissions.
Air France-KLM in May 2021 flew its Airbus A350 from Paris to Montreal on biofuel by mixing sustainable aviation fuel petroleum with a synthetic jet fuel derived from waste cooking oils.
KLM, via the Corporate SAF Programme, enables customers and the aviation firm to reduce these levels by 15 and 50 per cent respectively in 2030 via an investment in more fuel-efficient aircraft with a lower noise footprint.
Emirates, on the other hand, had also begun to experiment with SAF when it welcomed Airbus A380 to its 2020 fleet. A statement by the airline said the plane delivery was facilitated by a blend of jet fuel and Sustainable Aviation Fuel.
However, in Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world, things are quite different which worried me.
I had a conversation with airline operators which revealed that the aviation industry is very far from reducing CO2 emissions.
A spokesman for Dana Air, Mr Kingsley Ezenwa, said no plans have been made for Sustainable Aviation Fuel in the nation.
He said, “There is currently no SAF in Nigeria or plans to have it.”
The General Manager, Public Relations Department, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Sam Adurogboye confirmed this. He noted that country’s regulator was open to new developments
“Aviation Fuel is one of the high-cost components in Airline’s operations. So, the NCAA will support any improvement initiative on the current situation,” he explained.
“Having said that, the Department of Petroleum Resources(DPR) is statutorily the agency of Government on fuel either Jet A 1 or PMS or AGO or cooking Kerosine.
“Our main concern is to ensure that operators use the right type of fuel. This will be done in collaboration with DPR,” he added.
While Nigeria’s aviation sector is behind in sustainable energy, the impacts of global warming are predominant and cannot be ignored. This is evident in the heatwave and unusually high water levels recently reported in several parts of the world.
Two weeks ago, one billion sea creatures were cooked to death across the Pacific Northwest during a heatwave.
The remains were scattered along the shores of Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, Canada, as several clams, mussels, sea stars and snails suffered a record-smashing phenomenon.
For rural Alberta, the impacts can be social, environmental and economic after it facing wildfires, hail storms, floods and droughts in the previous decade.
For Lagosians, the second part of the year, especially July 2021, was unusual. It has been quite bizarre for the populous city in Nigeria, suffering atmospheric changes as well as flooding in high brow areas like Lekki and Victoria Island where residents lost several properties as a result.
This has got Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg very touchy. She accused world leaders of role-playing at the Austrian World Summit on climate policy – hosted by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this year. She accused world leaders of “playing politics, playing with words, playing with our future.”
She stressed that net-zero emissions targets announced by major economies “could be a great start if they weren’t full of gaps and loopholes” such as “leaving out emissions from imported goods, international aviation and shipping.”
An energy expert, Bala Zakka, however, argued that fossil fuels were a major component of Aviation Jet Fuel and explained their importance in propelling aircraft.
He told me, “The aircraft requires a level of energy from the back to propel [it]. What we use to create that force is aviation fuel and the higher you burn it, the [faster] the aircraft.
“Research on the possible replacement of the force of energy to be burnt to propel the aircraft has not been established. I see a situation where the aviation industry moves to a cleaner fossil fuel like gas to generate energy before moving on to a renewable energy source in the future.”
Zakka stressed that other countries still make use of fossil fuels and the rush to adopt a climate-friendly approach in Nigeria for instance is unnecessary.
He said, “South Africa generates energy from coal. China also generates some of its energy from coal. India too also generates [a lot of] energy from coal. So when you see the craze, [it surprises me].”
He added, “What I will advise is this, even though I am in support of us going green, I do not appreciate the anxiety and panic created around these greenhouse effects.
“The way anxiety is being hyped, it is as if the world will come to an end [tomorrow]. Meanwhile developed economies still use fossil fuels to get energy. We should stop creating unnecessary panic for humanity.”
Aviation consultant, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, in a conversation with me explained that the Nigerian aviation sector is not concerned about SAF due to the research, investments and certification required.
He said, “It is a European thing and not an African thing. I don’t think Nigeria will key into it. And again, as you know, the SAF is more expensive than the Jet fuel that we are groaning over in terms of production cost. Maybe somewhere down the line, we may use it. It is not an immediate concern for African airlines. We should work on getting jet fuel cheaper for now.”
Meanwhile, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) has tasked the International Energy Agency (IEA) to prioritise investment in SAF to strengthen the aviation industry’s contributions to post-Covid-19 pandemic recovery.
The global body of airlines declared that aviation was committed to its emissions reduction goals, but needed the assistance of IEA to realise this target.
Similarly, American Airlines has emerged as
the first airline in North America committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as part of its strategy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Nonetheless, other countries have begun to renew their desire to stop the era of fossil fuels.
The European Union has led the way by voting to make sure internal combustion vehicles are phased out by 2035, with the hope to rope industries like aviation and shipping, which were previously exempt from some EU climate policies, into compliance.
Israel too as well has towed this line with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and several cabinet members vowing to slash carbon emissions by 2050.
Similarly, the United Kingdom has backed eight companies with £15 million government funding to support the development of a first-of-a-kind production plant turning waste into Sustainable Aviation Fuel.
The renewable energy would be produced across the UK including Tees Valley, Ellesmere Port and Lincolnshire with the potential to create over 1,000 green jobs across the UK in a statement I obtained on their website.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
“Aviation will be central to our future growth and plans to build back greener from the pandemic, which is why we have invested over £20 million in the past year to decarbonise the sector in line with our world-leading net-zero targets.
“With 100 days to go until COP26, we’re ramping up our efforts even further to help companies break ground on trailblazing waste to jet fuel plants and put the UK at the forefront of international SAF production.”
While lack of funding may be the inherent reason stalling Nigeria and Africa from embracing renewable energy; the benefits of a sustainable society devoid of global warming, loss of phytoplankton and continuous flooding outweighs the downsides.