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Drug trials point the way to understanding aviation and climate change

Published: 
8 August 2009

A unique collaboration between the University of Southampton’s Schools of Engineering Sciences and Medicine, which has presented the most comprehensive review of the impact of aviation on climate this century, is to be awarded the Royal Aeronautical Society Silver Medal in London today (Thursday, 9 July 2009).

The paper entitled ‘Systematic review of the impact of emissions from aviation on current and future climate’ is the first major study of its kind in the last decade, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its findings on this subject in 1999.

What makes this Southampton collaboration unique is the application of the systematic review methodology for drug appraisals to the subject of climate change.

Results of the paper show that there is a wide range of predictions for the impact of aviation on climate. These are most dependent on assumptions made about future economic growth. The paper also highlights how dependent we are on the level of scientific understanding and modelling capability, particularly around the non-CO2 effects of aircraft.

Dr Kenji Takeda, Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering Sciences and lead author of the paper, explains: “By using an objective approach to reviewing the effect of aircraft on climate, we hope to provide a good baseline for this active debate. There is a clear need for improving scientific understanding, and it is vital for the aircraft industry to continue to support climate scientists and work towards future solutions for sustainable aviation.”

Systematic reviews are carried out to identify and synthesise evidence using a transparent and objective approach. They are used extensively by medical researchers for assessing the effectiveness of methods for preventing, treating and managing different diseases, to inform national policy in the UK on their availability across the National Health Service. This is one of the first times this rigorous approach has been applied to the complex issues around climate change. It is hoped that such objective methodology can be more widely applied in this area to help inform and guide the decision-making process that will determine the future of the planet.

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