Which Emits the Most Greenhouse Gases- Car Trips or Plane Trips?


The climate impact of travel behavior: A German case study with illustrative mitigation options( Aamaas B, Borken-Kleefeld J, Peters GP, Environmental Science & Policy,  Nov. 2013)

Also discussed here: Policy Analysis – Mode, Load, and Specific Climate Impact from Passenger Trips(Abstract, Jens Borken-Kleefeld, Jan Fuglestvedt, and Terje Berntsen, Environmental Science & Technology, Jun. 13, 2013)

And here: Going by car, plane, coach or train?– Climate impact from passenger travel re-calculated(11 page pdf, Jens Borken-Kleefeld, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 2011)

And here: Cars and planes dominate the climate impact from travel(CICERO, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo, May 8, 2013)

And here: Study finds climate impact of long distance trip can vary by factor of 10 depending upon mode, efficiency and occupancy(Green Care Congress, Jun. 27, 2013)

Today we review several articles that examined the greenhouse gas contributions made to atmospheric by various modes of travel. As to which is worst- car or plane trips, the short answer is: it depends. It depends on how many passengers travel together in a car and how energy efficient the car is and in terms of annual emissions how many car or plane trips are taken (in Germany the average is 1,000 car trips per year, likely close to what it is in US/Canada or Western Europe). On a single passenger per km travel basis, the plane trip is the winner (or, I should say, loser), not only because of the CO2 in the fuel emissions but also as a result of contrails which impact the climate. Travel in a small car with 3 or more passengers has less impact per passenger on the climate than rail or bus public transit which, otherwise, win.

The biggest issue for transit is passenger occupancy – they work best when full to capacity but usually they are not which leaves a heavy vehicle, wasting fuel to carry a few passengers. I’d bet on a small electric robot car, wouldn’t you?

travel ghg

To see Key Quotes and Links to key reports about this post, click HERE

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