The real story about CO2 emissions from aviation


We regularly read reports from the airline industry that its CO2 emissions would only make up 2 percent of the national total. Having become suspicious by the multitude of false claims from that corner, we decided to misuse the back of our cigarette box for a calculation. Spoiler: the sector is far from it.

In 2016, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 3,753 million kilos of kerosene was supplied to aviation. That is 3,753,000,000 kilograms, or 3.753 billion kilograms.

When burning one kilogram of kerosene, 3.14 kg of CO2 is released , resulting from the chemical conversion of a CH2 group with an atomic weight of 14 via connection with oxygen to a CO2 molecule with an atomic weight of 44.

According to this calculation, the combustion of the supplied kerosene produces a CO2 emission of 3.753 x 3.14 = 11.8 billion kilograms.

In 2016, according to the CBS, all citizens and companies throughout the Netherlands emitted 166 billion kilograms of CO2 .

The Dutch kerosene therefore accounts for 11.8 / 166 = 7.1 percent of the total CO2 emissions of our country.

Actual damage However,
that calculation says nothing about the actual damage caused by kerosene. The IPCC , the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, states that aircraft are extra harmful to the environment, among other things because they emit the exhaust gases at great heights.

The IPCC also provides the calculation methods with which the calculations are done for the Paris Climate Agreement. The methods therefore have an official status.

The scientists of the institute state that the chemically calculated CO2 emissions must be multiplied by a factor of 2.7 to take into account the extra polluting aspects of aviation.

The CO2 emissions of the kerosene sold in our country thus amount to 11.8 x 2.7 = 32 billion kilograms. Compared to the total emissions of Dutch citizens and companies of 166 billion kilograms, aviation alone accounts for no less than 20 percent of the total CO2 emissions.

Since 2016, aviation in the Netherlands has grown by a few percent. It is not known whether kerosene sales have grown, because Statistics Netherlands has not yet released more recent figures.

The aviation sector often states that it does not go beyond a contribution to national CO2 emissions of 2 percent. Usually with the argument that emissions elsewhere or high in the air may not be counted. However, this view produces a shocking difference with the reality of a factor of 10.

Update: market research shows that home carrier KLM has a market share of approximately 50 percent at Schiphol. That would mean that the ‘national pride’ alone accounts for 10% of the CO2 emissions of the entire Netherlands.

Update 2: In response to questions from RTL journalist René Lukassen, KLM sends him confirmation that the company emits 12 billion kg of CO2 annually. According to these own figures, KLM alone accounts for more than 7.2 percent of the CO2 emissions of the entire Netherlands.