Martin Fahey asks if it is time for us all to reassess everything?

You can’t have escaped the news about the impact of climate change on our environment and you may have even heard of the 16-year-old climate protester, Greta Thunberg, who has started a global phenomenon and has spoken at Davos and the UK, telling truth to power, as she sees it.

She will shortly make it to New Year to speak to power there but has chosen to cross the Atlantic by power boat, rather than taking a flight.

Her refusal to take a flight to America highlights an uncomfortable truth for all of us in that aviation is highly carbon intensive, whether that is for someone who has to fly for work, or families taking a hard earned holiday in the sun.

We face a climate emergency and none of us will be able to simply carry on as before

Martin Fahey2 Martin Fahey Head of Sustainability

Carbon intensive

We face a climate emergency which means all of us have to change the way we do things and none of us will be able to simply carry on as before.

On the topic of air travel, I saw an interesting piece in the Guardian about how one intercontinental flight emits as much carbon as some people do in a whole year.

Flight tax

Many government’s around the world are already looking at this topic as one area of reducing mankind’s impact on the climate, with reports of the French government planning to impose an ‘eco-tax’ on air travel,

According to Elisabeth Borne, the Transport Minister, the government expects this to raise around €180m from 2020, which would then be used to finance transport in the country and in particular rail.

The fee is likely to be around €1.50 for short-haul flights and up to €18 for long-haul business class journeys, so whilst it won’t stop people going on holiday and won’t increase costs significantly for individual families, it will raise much needed funds for more environmentally-friendlier ways of travelling.

It’s a shame

Other governments are also looking at similar schemes with the Swedish government announcing a flygskam, or 'flight shame' tax at a June conference on carbon pricing in the Netherlands.

Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson is quoted as saying: “There is only one way to finance costs created by climate change – through taxes".

Aviation taxes are therefore a growing view among politicians in Europe, with the conference proposing a widely adopted jet fuel tax.

This Swedish word of ‘flygskam’, highlights an anti-flying movement and reflects a growing sentiment amongst the country’s population that flying is a source of guilt and shame because of the impact it has on climate change.

Sweden has already beaten France by introducing an aviation tax on each trip in 2018, and would now like to go one step further and tax jet fuel directly.

One impact that the 2018 tax has already had is to reduce demand for air travel in Sweden.

How carbon intensive is flying?

Only a tiny proportion of the world's population flies, with the majority of these in the developed world.

For those that do though, it accounts for a huge proportion of the CO2 emissions that can be individually attributable to them.

Air travel is responsible for between 2 and 5% of global CO2 emissions but aviation is growing faster than the world economy and, despite major advances in the efficiency of aircraft, the overall share of emissions is also growing.

Add to this the fact that air travel also contributes to the greenhouse effect through other processes, such as the formation of high altitude cirrus clouds due to particle pollutants, nitrogen dioxide emissions (which stimulate ozone formation), vapour trails and soot particles.

It's not just flights

It is easy to pick on one sector or even one country and claim that ‘they’ need to reduce their carbon footprint as the solution to everything, but it’s worth remembering that other sectors create high level of emissions as well.

The production of food accounts for approximately 25% of global carbon emissions, with animal agriculture generating around 15%.  The major difference here though is that everyone benefits from food production, not just those lucky enough to be able to afford air travel.

Fashion and clothing also produces around 10% of carbon emissions and production of textiles is also a highly polluting industry which creates more emissions than international flights and shipping together. 

And that’s before we look at the disposable element of the fashion industry with an estimated 60% of clothing simply thrown away within a year.

Get ready for change

The point for me though is that change is coming and we better all get used to it. 

More than that, we actually need to embrace it and do everything we can as an individual to reduce our own carbon footprint.

Whether that is something as simple as turning off lights, lowering the thermostat one degree, not leaving all of those devices on standby, or reducing your meat consumption, it does make a difference – and collectively, it will have a dramatic impact and help reduce the impact of mankind on our one and only planet.

So, if you are off somewhere exotic for your holiday, I really do hope you have a fantastic experience and come back refreshed and reinvigorated.

It is unlikely to be the last flight you will take, but it may be the last holiday where you aren’t made to realise the high carbon impact of air travel – which can only be a good thing!

In the meantime, check out this WWF site where you can measure your own personal carbon footprint, because none of us can change what we do not measure.

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric Living Environment Systems UK