Thursday, October 3, 2019

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint: Air Travel and Climate Change

by: Byron Lee

Editor's note: We continue our Reducing Your Carbon Footprint series, inspired and informed by a report from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. In our previous post, we discussed how you could reduce the carbon footprint of your daily travel choices.

Whether boarding an airplane for your dream vacation, a business trip, or for visiting your friends and family, these marvelously fast metal tubes soaring through the sky may be great for speedy travel, but are detrimental to our climate. Air travel is responsible for approximately 2% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – if it were a country, it would be among the top 10 emitters in the world. Not to mention air travel is one of the fastest growing sources of GHG emissions with an annual growth rate far higher than population or GDP growth, according to the Environmental Commission of Ontario's (ECO) report.

Find out more, including how to mitigate your emissions from air travel, after the jump.

Air travel & climate change

In 2016, the emissions associated with passenger air travel reached about 17 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. These figures were based on Canada's 2016 National Inventory Report estimates for domestic aviation.

Airplanes burn jet fuel which either takes the form of jet kerosene or jet gasoline. Burning this fuel produces CO2, as well as water vapour, particulate matter and other products of combustion. When these pollutants are released high into the atmosphere, they have an even more potent greenhouse effect. The timing of a flight is a notable contributing factor to air travel's impact on climate change. Nighttime flights have a much larger impact than daytime flights due to the contrails produced by the airplane. The contrails reflect the sunlight and the accompanying heat back into space during the daytime, whereas at nighttime, they trap heat on Earth.

What you can do

As detrimental as flight emissions are to the environment and climate change, there are actions individuals can take in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas emissions as passengers of a flight:
  1. If you must travel by air:
    • Small Step: Reduce the weight of your luggage, and
    • Big Step: Avoid travelling first or business class as these seats have a much higher carbon footprint than economy seats.
    • Big Step: Avoid nighttime flights (this is especially effective during the winter), and
  2. Big (the best) Step: Reduce the need for air travel. Choose alternatives, like staycations or using train travel for long-haul trips.
Finally, many airlines offer the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets for your travel. Far from a perfect solution, offsets don't help reduce emissions overall but instead balancing out the impact of your air travel.

Even though the City of Toronto has no jurisdiction over air travel, your long-distance travel choices have a big impact on our local emissions. Find out more about how you can help #TransformTO.

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