How Can Air Travellers Tackle the Climate Crisis?
How Can Air Travellers Tackle the Climate Crisis?

Air travel currently accounts for 2% of all carbon emissions each year.

With a single commercial flight producing up to 90kg of carbon per mile, and 4.4 billion passengers travelling by plane in 2018, governments have decided to intervene.


The carbon charge

It’s not new. Industries in the UK and other countries are already being hit with financial penalties determined by the levels of CO2 they emit. Under new plans, this charge would also be applied to air travel – with customers paying the price.

Proposals are being made for an opt-in charge that would see passengers “donate” extra money on top of the base ticket price, or the charge could be made mandatory, thus offsetting the cost to airlines. The carbon charge will raise awareness about the impact air travel has on CO2 emissions and fund ground-breaking research and technologies in the fight against global warming.

However, the aviation industry will also take a financial hit. Bloomberg reports that for “economy seats alone, the cost could balloon to $3.8 billion a year by 2025, hurting airlines’ earnings”.

Despite this, according to CNN, several airline companies have vowed to become carbon neutral by 2050, including British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia.


The impact of public transport on climate change

Is public transport greener than driving? The increased adoption of electric vehicles will soon see public transport becoming a potentially less carbon friendly option than family cars. Buses and trains continue to run regardless of how many people use them, whereas personal vehicles do not.

Several factors determine the level of CO2 emissions of a single journey on any mode of transport: journey length, passenger numbers, vehicle specifications, passenger weight, speed, weather conditions, traffic congestion and more. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is one organisation that helps calculate these factors, as well as other aspects of carbon footprints, through their online questionnaire.

There are also reasonable current circumstances where a commercial flight would be a more environmentally friendly option than driving or using public transport. A full plane of a certain make, model and size on a certain journey can be “greener” than a single passenger driving a long distance. It’s not as black and white as you think.


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What can passengers and the public do?

Choosing to fly less frequently may not have the impact you intend but becoming aware of your own carbon footprint and paying extra fees to help finance programmes specifically designed to help scientists and engineers find newer, greener ways to travel, just might.

The release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere through air travel won’t disappear until we find alternative modes of transport for long-distance, transatlantic travel. In the meantime, society has developed its own way of holding air travellers accountable through “flight shaming”.

One country leading the charge is China. Some 38% of Chinese travellers “are willing to take a lower carbon footprint alternative to air travel, even at the cost of inconvenience and additional expense” according to an Ipsos Survey for the World Economic Forum.


To better understand these risks and their impact, join us from 28-30 October for our executive course, “Environment and Security”, led by Ms Anna Brach, Head of Human Security at the GCSP.