Cutting Aviation Pollution


Airplanes in line to take off at sunset

Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change. In fact, if the entire aviation sector were a country, it would be one of the top 10 carbon-polluting nations on the planet. Air travel is also currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make. A passenger taking flight from New York to London and back emits more emissions than an average person in Paraguay over the course of an entire year. The global aviation sector needs to get on a sustainable flightpath now, because the climate crisis is not going away. With aviation emissions left unaddressed, we can expect major storm clouds ahead.

In 2010, the aviation industry carried 2.4 billion passengers; in the next 15 years, that number is forecast to rise to 8.2 billion. Without action, emissions from increased air travel could triple from pre-COVID levels by 2050. However, with bold action, we can create a greener, more sustainable aviation industry that supports the effort to address the climate crisis.

As governments consider how to craft a comprehensive climate plans for aviation, they should build it on five pillars:

  • Promoting alternatives to air travel Increasing aircraft fuel efficiency
  • Developing more sustainable aviation fuels–whether liquid fuels or electricity
  • Removing carbon from the atmosphere through investment in renewable energy, carbon credits, and nature-based climate solutions
  • Mitigating the effects of non-CO2 exhaust in the atmosphere

WWF is working closely with a diverse array of leading international voices to encourage the aviation industry, government, and the United Nations body in charge of international aviation policy–the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)–to adopt policies and measures to slash the industry's skyrocketing emissions and limit the effects of the climate crisis.

Advocating for climate-conscious air travel

As more and more people take to the skies, scientists project that without advances in airplane efficiency and industry-wide regulations, commercial aviation emissions could triple by 2050.
Large airplane silhouette

Why It Matters

  • To cut climate pollution and limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, every nation and every sector of the economy, including aviation, must do its part. Developing appropriate economic incentives to reduce aviation's carbon footprint is one of the best things we can do to curb global emissions and protect local communities from the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

    Carbon emissions alone do not tell the whole story. As jet fuel is burned midflight other pollutants are released in addition to CO2 that may account for more than half of flying's impact on our warming climate.

What WWF Is Doing

Airplane wing against the background of clouds and sky

Regulating Emissions in the United States

WWF advocates for the US to regulate emissions on flights within the US, and do so at a level that protects public health and welfare, as required by the Clean Air Act. We also advocate for policies that lead to the uptake of alternative jet fuels that have lower emissions than fossil fuels.

International Aviation Policy

WWF is a member of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), a network of nonprofit organizations working to reduce pollution from aviation. Through ICSA, we engage policymakers and industry leaders to develop ambitious international policies to cut aviation’s global climate footprint.

Engaging Industry Stakeholders

WWF is mobilizing the aviation industry and its business travel clients to play a powerful role in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. We do so by working with airlines to set carbon targets based on science and through programs that explore innovative alternatives to business travel.