Smart Transport

Air travel dubbed “elitist activity", according to aviation carbon study

One percent of the world’s population accounts for more than half of the carbon dioxide emissions from passenger air travel, according to a new study.

Sweden's Linnaeus University published its findings in Global Environment Change and author Professor Stefan Gössling said: "Air travel is actually an elitist activity instead of what the aviation industry would like us to believe – that everyone flies."

Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, global air transport demand was expected to triple in the next 30 years.

When the pandemic hit this spring, global air travel was reduced by up to 80%.

This gave Professor Gössling and Professor Andreas Humpe at the Munich University of Applied Sciences an opportunity to study more closely the scale, distribution and growth of aviation up to 2018.

The two researchers analysed passengers, emissions levels and how the pandemic has affected aviation due to a reduction in demand.

“Thus, there is a clear point in discussing also the consequences of climate change from an expected post-corona volume growth”, said Gössling.

The results show that only 11% of the world’s population used air transport in 2018, of which slightly less than 4% were made up of international flights.

When looking only at industrialised countries, almost half of the inhabitants use air transport on a yearly basis.

In Germany this number is even lower, around 35%.

“The assumptions we have made based on the numbers we have been looking at are conservative and many countries do not have this type of statistics. Significantly fewer than half of all people in industrialised countries use air transport on a yearly basis”, Gössling explains.

Contribution to emissions

As might be expected, the biggest scapegoats were the individual users of private aircrafts.

They contributed to emissions of up to 7,500 ton of carbon dioxide every year. The corresponding figure for the average traveler is 130 kilos of carbon dioxide per year.

Gössling said: “The findings are specifically relevant since a large share of global aviation emissions is not covered by policy agreements to reduce emissions, which is the case for the national emissions."

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Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), who spoke on BEIS's approach to decarbonising transport, particularly the electrification of the vehicle industry

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