Minimising the Impact of Flying

Updated: 1 day ago


Have you ever thought about the greenhouse gas emissions we cause by flying?


There are increasing concerns about the impact of the ‘Climate Crisis’ - as declared recently by Harborough District council and many others. Harborough Climate Action (HCA) is an independent group of volunteers who are trying to help us all tackle this crisis together and reduce our Carbon Footprint. (1)


A s explained in our previous articles and elsewhere on our website, we use this simple wheel device to help us remember where our greenhouse gas emissions come from. This includes how we can reduce them and how to offset them - if we can’t avoid them altogether.


We need to do this, along with the rest of the country, to get to ‘Net Zero’ emissions as soon as possible. This will help reduce the devastating impact that climate change is already having - both here in the UK and around the world.


According to Pawprint, the ‘average’ person in the UK is responsible for around 13 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year (tCO2e). This includes ALL our ‘Footprint’ emissions from all our consumption – not ‘just’ the UK Government ‘Territorial’ figure of nearer 5 tonnes (which is around the global average). (2)


Either way, Transport currently accounts for around a quarter of our ‘average’ Carbon Footprint. In the UK, over 90% of this is comes from Road Transport including our cars or the buses we use and the many taxis, vans and lorries plus Shipping (5%) and Rail (1.4%). These UK Transport figures haven’t improved much in the past 30 years and only include Domestic Aviation (1.2%). (3)


If we are still able to afford it flying abroad from the UK alone accounted for 37 million tonnes of emissions in 2019. That’s around 500kg CO2e more for every person in the UK or around 25 times more than our Domestic Aviation emissions and up to 2.2 – 3.5% of all global emissions. (4)


This would add nearly a third on top of our total Transport figures above but it isn’t included in the UK Government targets (yet)! Perhaps this is why the airlines have been ‘allowed’ to more than double their emissions in the past 30 years – regularly failing to meet their own published reduction targets. (5)


As an example of greenhouse gas emissions from flying, a return flight to Europe from the UK emits around 250 kg of CO2e per person, a return to New York is around 1 tonne and a long-haul return trip to Oz emits over 3 tonnes! The airlines and the aero industry are trying to cut these emissions and many include ‘carbon offset’ as standard but we all need to think before we fly.


That’s a lot of facts and figures to take in but you might be thinking: ‘What can I do about it’? We have all had to rethink our priorities recently with the impact of Covid, rising fuel costs and record inflation.


Here’s a few Top Tips for you to try if you’d like to reduce your impact on the planet:

  • When someone tells you about their holiday plans, ask ‘How are you getting there?’. This can open up a conversation about Flying emissions and the alternatives. (6)

  • Staying in the UK is an economic necessity for many families, as well as being a good choice for the planet. Try to consider your Carbon Footprint when making your travel choices.

  • A small proportion of Frequent Flyers account for the majority of emissions, so try to reduce how often you fly.

  • Some people choose to fly only every other year – halving their emissions

  • Avoiding Long Haul or Transatlantic flying can reduce your impact by more than ten-fold, compared to you flying to Europe.

  • Many European locations are now reachable by relatively affordable and extremely comfortable high-speed trains – only generating about a fifth of the emissions

  • If you do decide to fly, try to make sure the airline you use provides ‘Certified Carbon Offset’ - such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) scheme or you can select your own. (7)


We would be delighted to hear from you with your thoughts on flying and the alternatives to reduce your emissions – please email us via: hca@sustainableharboroughcommunity.co.uk

FOOTNOTES

1) Further information about HCA and how to use the Carbon Footprint wheel can be found via our web pages - https://www.sustainableharboroughcommunity.co.uk/hca-adapt


2) Warwickshire Climate Alliance explains how the Pawprint greenhouse gas emissions average figure is calculated and why it is more realistic than the much smaller figure used by the UK Government and often quoted elsewhere – https://warwickshireclimatealliance.org/2022/04/12/how-much-is-the-average-uk-carbon-footprint/


3) UK Gov figures (Oct 2021) state that Transport produced 27% of the UK’s total emissions in 2019. Of this, the majority (91%) came from road transport vehicles. The biggest contributors to this were cars and taxis, which made up 61% of the emissions from road transport, followed by Heavy Goods Vehicles (18%) and vans (17%) - https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-and-environment-statistics-autumn-2021/transport-and-environment-statistics-autumn-2021


4) We need also to factor in the climatic effect of non-CO2 pollutants, such as water vapour, aerosols and nitrogen oxides. Analysis suggests these probably double the impact of flying.


5) We Are Possible article indicates that for 20 years the aviation industry has missed all but one of their sustainability targets - https://www.wearepossible.org/latest-news/for-20-years-the-aviation-has-missed-all-but-one-of-their-sustainability-targets


6) We Are Possible article suggests we should talk about flying - https://www.wearepossible.org/actions-blog/lets-talk-about-flying


7) Certified Carbon Offset Schemes:

- IATA Carbon Offset Scheme – https://www.iata.org/en/programs/environment/carbon-offset/

- Treehugger’s guide to “The 6 Best Carbon Offset Programs of 2022” - https://www.treehugger.com/best-carbon-offset-programs-5076458

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