Taking 30 Long Distance Flights is Equal to Having a Child (from a CO2 emissions perspective)

Traveling has now been recognized as the single most significant action a private citizen can take to negatively impact climate change. The travel sector accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions. One long distance flight has 1.6 tCO2e per year whereas a child has 58.6 tCO2e per year, which is equivalent to almost 30 long distance flights. 

According to a paper published in Nature Climate Change, this sector is set to grow at 4% annually. The climate challenge for the aviation sector is undoubtedly more severe than expected. A major determinant in this aspect is the outpacing expansion of air travel worldwide, propelled by an escalation of low-cost airlines and a booming tourism industry catering to a growing middle class. In a paper published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the journal Science, two climatologists observed that the Arctic sea-ice loss directly follows anthropogenic CO2 emission. Each additional metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent- for instance, emissions from a cross-country flight one-way from New York to Los Angeles (approximately 2500 miles), shrinks the summer sea ice cover by 3 square meters, or 32 square feet. In their Annual Review Report 2018, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stated that the number of airline passengers worldwide has more than doubled since 2003. Moreover, a report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) found that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world’s “carbon budget,” or the amount of CO2 emissions permitted to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. A lower level of fuel savings could lead emissions to triple by 2050.

Overall, air travel accounts for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions — a far smaller share than emissions from passenger cars or power plants. However, as a proportion of an individual’s emissions, it certainly is worrisome. Each passenger on a non-stop return flight from New York to London accounts for about 4 tons of CO2, or equivalent to as much carbon emitted by heating an average family home in the UK for an entire year. The U.S., prior to President Trump opting out of the Paris Climate Agreement, is already responsible for nearly half of the worldwide CO2 aircraft emissions alone. Although in recent years, airlines have invested in lighter, more fuel-efficient aircrafts, there aren’t many options available right now to make flying remarkably greener.

The effects of climate change are inconceivably enormous and catastrophic. Yet, the world beckons us to explore it. Adopting a ‘flexitarian’ approach, which is flying responsibly, including direct flights and fewer trips, flying economy class, can make a huge difference. Sustainable travel starts right when one packs their suitcase. Packing lightly, and taking reusable containers and bags helps notably. Another great way to enhance one’s travel experience is going local- eating and drinking locally, choosing an eco-friendly stay- can guarantee a lighter carbon footprint while supporting the local communities. Traveling with a tour group will not only reduce fuel consumption but also provide an excellent opportunity to connect with fellow passengers, thereby making the entire getaway more fulfilling.