Global travel accounts for around 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions – a comparatively small proportion compared with agriculture, which comes in at roughly 15%. However, taking a flight plays a significant part in an individual’s carbon footprint, and as an industry we should be looking at ways to decrease this impact in order to meet future carbon goals.
It’s clear that change has to come from within the industry, aided by governments and world leaders, rather than placing the burden on individuals. During the Economist magazine’s Sustainability Virtual Week earlier this month, the idea of restricting each individual to two flights per month was discussed – and by and large rejected. Applying a blanket restriction just wouldn’t work. 80% of the world’s population have in fact never travelled by plane, and some suggest this type of legislation would actually do more harm than good.
So how about stopping flights altogether? And is flying really essential, especially now that we’ve started to embrace remote working and virtual meetings? Ryanair’s head of sustainability thought it likely that business travel would see a drop due to Covid-19, but leisure travel was more likely to bounce back, as alternatives to flying are difficult. In the UK, we’re well connected to Europe by rail and sea. But in countries such as the US, without flights, would-be travellers would never be able to leave the country. Rail travel can also cost more in terms of money and time, a luxury that many can’t afford. Personally, I believe that for some people, flying is an essential, whether it be for work, seeing family, or fulfilling dreams of travelling the world.
So perhaps instead of banning flying altogether, we should be looking at positive change and revolutionising the way we travel. Some great examples of what these could be were shared during the conference. Last month, ZeroAvia completed its first commercial hydrogen-electric flight, and it aims to run a 250-mile zero emissions flight by the end of 2020. But Ryanair’s head of sustainability pointed out that there needs to be incentives put in place for companies to use sustainable aviation fuels.
We also need to look at the whole travel experience and ways we can implement innovative solutions to reduce the impact on the planet from start to finish. For example, single-use plastics are widely used on airlines, particularly now that hygiene on a flight is even more important, but many packaging companies are making great strides in developing biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives.
Rather than restricting travel, it will be far better if we can collaborate and make the travel experience a more sustainable one.