With a 50% drop in passengers taking to the skies in 2020, there's no better time to overhaul an industry responsible for dangerous carbon emissions, according to researchers. "If you want to resolve climate change … then we should start at the top, where a few 'super emitters' contribute massively to global warming," Stefan Gössling of Sweden's Linnaeus University tells the Guardian. "We should see the crisis as an opportunity to slim the air transport system." Gössling, author of a new study in Global Environmental Change, finds 1% of the global population caused half of carbon emissions linked to aviation in 2018. That's about half a billion tons of CO2, or at least 1% of annual global CO2 emissions, per CNN and the Guardian. Of rich countries, the US emitted more than the next 10 countries combined in 2018, though 53% of the population didn't fly at all. Globally, only 11% of people took a flight and just 4% flew abroad.
But those frequent flyers traveled 35,000 miles a year on average, the equivalent of one short-haul flight per month, per the study. With no one covering the cost of the damage from emissions, estimated at $100 billion in 2018, this "represents a major subsidy to the most affluent," researchers say. They suggest airlines meet environmental conditions in exchange for government bailouts. This has happened in France with Air France agreeing to limit domestic flights, per the BBC. Another possibility is a fee on frequent fliers, though Gössling thinks higher ticket prices are unlikely to deter the 1%. He suggests airlines "increase the share of [low carbon] synthetic fuels mix every year up to 100% by 2050." A rep for the International Air Transport Association says airlines have "agreed to explore pathways to how we could move to net zero emissions by around 2060." However, the Guardian notes aviation emissions jumped 32% from 2013 to 2018. (Read more aviation stories.)