1% Of People Cause Half Of Global Aviation Emissions
You’ve heard of super-spreaders, but what about super-emitters?
A research study on frequent flyers has found that, in 2018, ‘super-emitters’ were responsible for 50% of global emissions caused by flying. Frequent flyers, who represent approximately 1% of the world’s population, are defined as those who fly more than 35,000 miles – roughly three long-haul flights – in the course of a year.
The cost of climate damage caused by frequent flyers in 2018 was estimated to be around $100 billion.
The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also researched flying habits based on country, and found that the United States produced the most emissions among rich nations, despite more than half of the country not taking flights at all.
The aviation industry is in crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with air travel dropping by 50% this year. And while plenty of people are counting down the days until they can jet off on holiday again, researchers say that the current situation gives us a chance to reset our travel habits to make them more sustainable.
Stefan Gössling of Linnaeus University in Sweden, who led the study, told The Guardian:
If you want to resolve climate change and we need to redesign [aviation], then we should start at the top, where a few ‘super emitters’ contribute massively to global warming,
The rich have had far too much freedom to design the planet according to their wishes. We should see the crisis as an opportunity to slim the air transport system.
Campaigns to reduce flight emissions were gaining traction before the pandemic hit, with climate campaigners including Greta Thunberg choosing to travel by train or boat rather than fly. A survey conducted by UBS last year found the growth of the Swedish ‘flygskam’ – or flight shame – movement had seen one in five people cut back on the number of flights they took.
Flight companies say that they are committed to meeting environmental targets, and are working on ways to develop sustainable fuel to reduce the carbon footprint of air travel. The International Air Transport Associations says the industry this year agreed to ‘explore pathways to how we could move to net zero emissions by around 2060.’
However, airlines have been criticised for relying too heavily on solutions like carbon offsetting, which are viewed by many as insufficient to match the scale of the problem. Gössling said flight companies in general have ‘zero interest in climate change.’
The researcher adds that with climate change disproportionately affecting poorer communities, this recent study demonstrates how the actions of a tiny percentage of the world’s wealthiest people can impact billions of people across the world.
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