MMU leads major climate study

As the political temperature rises over climate change and global warming, Manchester Metropolitan University is leading the scientific way forward on our understanding of the environmental impact of pollution and emissions.


This week’s Greenpeace claim that the British Government could not longer be trusted to reduce global warming, underlines the imperative of tackling carbon emissions caused by road, rail, sea and air transport. The Government maintains that climate change will be “one of the two priorities” for the British G8 presidency next year. Scientists at MMU’s Centre for Air Transport and the Environment (CATE) have recently completed the most comprehensive audit ever of annual global emissions and fuel usage from civic and military aircraft.

Their latest project – Quantify – will analyse this data and assess the climatic impacts of the massive growth in aeroplane use and pollutants. Working with researchers across Europe, the study will compare the impacts from emissions from all forms of transport – cars, trains, ships and aeroplanes.

David Lee, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at CATE, said: “Are cars the biggest polluter, or is it air transport? We aim to find out and provide a scientific basis for future planning for governments and industry. “We do not want to exaggerate the impact of air transport, but nor should we underestimate it. But, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, aviation has two to three times the impact on climate change as that of other transports because the pollution takes place at altitude. “One recent study we conducted showed that flying 6,000 feet below standard altitudes could results in a 47% reduction in contrails – the exhaust streams that trap radiation and drive up global temperatures.”

Quantify, funded by the European Commission, is a €8 million research project over five years involving around 30 European partners, four in the UK – Oxford, Cambridge, Reading and Manchester Metropolitan universities. Professor Lee is lead researcher on the aviation impacts project – one of eight Quantify projects. Earlier this month, CATE hosted the International Civil Aviation Authority’s working group on emissions which advises the UN on air quality regulation and cleaner engines and other technology.

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