Global inequalities in CO₂ emissions from aviation

Aviation accounts for 2.5% of global CO₂ emissions. Where do these emissions come from?

Global aviation – both passenger flights and freight – emits around one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. This was equivalent to around 2.4% of CO2 emissions in 2018.

How do global aviation emissions break down?

The chart gives the answer. This data is sourced from the 2019 International Council on Clean Transportation(ICCT) report on global aviation.1

Most emissions come from passenger flights – in 2018, they accounted for 81% of aviation’s emissions; the remaining 19% came from freight, the transport of goods.

Sixty percent of emissions from passenger flights come from international travel; the other 40% come from domestic (in-country) flights.

When we break passenger flight emissions down by travel distance, we get a (surprisingly) equal three-way split in emissions between short-haul (less than 1,500 kilometers); medium-haul (1,500 to 4,000 km); and long-haul (greater than 4,000 km) journeys.


The richest half are responsible for 90% of air travel CO2 emissions

The global inequalities in how much people fly become clear when we compare aviation emissions across countries of different income levels. The ICCT split these emissions based on World Bank's four income groups.

A further study by Susanne Becek and Paresh Pant (2019) compared the contribution of each income group to global air travel emissions versus its share of world population.2 This comparison is shown in the visualization.

The ‘richest’ half of the world (high and upper-middle income countries) were responsible for 90% of air travel emissions.3

Looking at specific income groups:



  1. Graver, B., Zhang, K., & Rutherford, D. (2019). CO2 emissions from commercial aviation, 2018. The International Council of Clean Transportation.

  2. Becken, S. and P. Pant (2019). Airline initiatives to reduce climate impact: ways to accelerate action (White paper).

  3. Note that this is based on categorisations from the average income level of countries, and does not take account of variation in income within countries. If we were to look at this distribution based on the income level of individuals rather than countries, the inequality in aviation emissions would be even larger.

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Hannah Ritchie (2020) - “Global inequalities in CO₂ emissions from aviation” Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

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    author = {Hannah Ritchie},
    title = {Global inequalities in CO₂ emissions from aviation},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2020},
    note = {}
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