I’ve been following the political spat that is in place between President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and European leaders, especially President Emmenuel Macron of France. This game of political ping pong is all over multiple fires raging in the Amazon with many fearing the possible consequences for global warming.
All this got me thinking about where we are today when it comes to global warming. I had a look at aviation which has grown astronomically in recent years. In 2018 airlines transported 4.3 billion passengers. Airlines in 2013 transported 3bn passengers and by 2037 IATA expects the number of passengers to rise to 8.2bn.
Most of the people travelling on planes come from developed economies such as North America and Europe, in effect the richest members of the global population. Now, to fly from London to New York and back in economy class you would be responsible for 0.67 tonnes of CO2 emissions. If you were lucky enough to travel business class your emissions would treble and in first class, it would quadruple.
In order to give these numbers some meaning your average Ghanaian is responsible for the same CO2 emissions as the economy passenger on this fight. The big difference is the poor Ghanaian would emit this level of CO2 over 12 months and not on two flights lasting less than 12 hours.
One of the pieces of good news on the horizon is the increasing number of long-haul flights that last for over 18 hours removing the need for multiple take off and landings which are responsible for increased levels of CO2 pollution. The other piece of good news is the fact that more and more airlines are flying almost full. The new Perth to London flights last 17 hours and 20 minutes and are 90 per cent full most of the time.
Cars are also big contributors towards CO2 emissions and a car and driver emit 171g of CO2 emissions per kilometre travelled. Now, if you have a car with four passengers that drops to 43g almost the same carbon emissions a passenger is responsible for when travelling on an electrified rail network.
Trains almost always beat planes when it comes to short haul flights. On a journey from London to Madrid by train a passenger would be responsible for 43kg of CO2 emissions. By plane there would be CO2 emissions of 118kg but added to that is the secondary high-altitude effects which add another 147kg.
The rich members of the global population are travelling more by plane, car and train. Most of this extra CO2 that is going into the atmosphere is not generated by the poor in developing countries. Admittedly, the rich countries are abandoning dirty fuels such as coal and less oil and gas. More energy is being generated by renewables such as wind, solar and wave power.
Finally, the rich are going on more cruise holidays, and Carnival Corporation, with 104 cruise ships, has published figures showing each passenger is responsible for around 251gm of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per kilometre. This means that cruising is in a similar place when it comes to the emissions as flying.
We still have a long way to go to save the planet.