For Immediate Release, September 12, 2019


Clare Lakewood, (510) 844-7121,

Report: U.S. Airlines’ Carbon Emissions Grew Twice as Fast as Fuel Efficiency Gains

WASHINGTON— Domestic aviation fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions increased by 7 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to a report released today by the International Council on Clean Transportation. Fuel efficiency increased by only 3 percent during the same period.

“The aviation industry’s climate pollution is soaring, while its greenhouse gas reduction efforts are stuck on the tarmac,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Without federal regulation, airlines are leaving even the emissions reductions available with today’s technology on the table. The EPA must immediately issue a strong rule that stops this skyrocketing pollution and drives the decarbonization of aviation.”

The new report shows that the U.S. aviation industry could cut fuel use and carbon pollution by more than 25 percent by investing in newer, more efficient planes and adopting greater passenger density. Frontier, ranked the most fuel-efficient airline by the report, made large investments in new Airbus A320neo aircraft and tied with Southwest for highest passenger density.

The Center, Friends of the Earth and other allies, represented by Earthjustice, first petitioned the EPA in 2007 to regulate carbon emissions from aircraft under the federal Clean Air Act. In July 2016 the EPA officially acknowledged that pollution from airplanes disrupts the climate and endangers human welfare, but the agency has failed to follow through with the legally required rules to reduce aircraft emissions.

Aviation already accounts for about 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas pollution, and emissions are rising steeply. If commercial aviation were considered a country, it would rank seventh after Germany in terms of carbon emissions. Airplanes could generate 43 metric gigatons of planet-warming pollution through 2050, consuming more than 4 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to a Center report.

The first international standards for carbon pollution from airplanes were adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization in early 2017. But these standards require emission reductions from new planes that are less than is expected under a business-as-usual projection, and they do not apply to any in-service aircraft.

“As young people prepare to strike for climate action, it’s never been more urgent for the government to tackle this exploding source of carbon pollution,” Lakewood said. “EPA has full authority under existing law to set technology-forcing standards for airplanes that drive down greenhouse gas emissions quickly. The airline industry’s obstruction will lead to its own demise if it doesn’t change its ways.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.