TRAIN VS PLANE: CO2 EMISSIONS AND GLOBAL WARMING
Climate change will be and is already one of the greatest challenges for humanity. The increase in greenhouse gases, one of the main ones being CO2, emitted in particular as a result of human activities, is warming the earth and causing climate disruption.
Climate crisis is already very real (melting ice, floods, rising waters, loss of biodiversity, drought, climate refugees, heat waves, fires, climate famines…) The Alps are also warming at a rate almost twice as fast as the rest of the planet and the change is less dramatic but already visible (melting glaciers, reduced snow cover, warming, melting permafrost, etc.)
To limit the effects of climate change, it is crucial to tackle the causes by reducing net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly CO2. And to know how to reduce them, it is important to understand where they come from, which is why carbon footprints and carbon audits are carried out.
TRANSPORT – MAJOR ISSUE FOR TOURISM AND SKI RESORTS
In France, transport accounts for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions; the leading source of emissions ahead of buildings, agriculture and industry.
For the tourism sector, the figure is even higher. In the latest GHG emissions report for the tourism sector in 2021, 77% of the emissions come from tourist mobility. (and air transport represents 40% of the total) According to a carbon assessment of several ski resorts, carried out by in the Alps, the majority of emissions in ski resorts come from transport (57%).
All this proves that acting on mobility must be a priority. Changing our mode of transport is essential to limit our emissions.
source: ADEME, Balance of the tourism sector in France, 2021 – GHG emissions
TRAIN VS. PLANE: CO2
So how can we calculate the impact of our transport? You can find various calculators that compare emissions depending of the mode of travel (with options to add passenger etc…) such as the one from the SNCF or ecopassenger, myclimate, or french ADEME . They give a real idea of the difference in emissions and environmental impact between trains and planes.
The results are always clear: train emissions are much lower than those of planes and cars. The train is unbeatable. Regardless of the type of train or the routes taken, the train wins hands down and also eclipses car travel.
For example, a trip from Paris to Lyon by plane emits 66 times more CO2 than by train.
Going from London to Edinburgh by train emits 87% less and London to Paris 91% less. We can thus cut our emissions by taking the train by up to 90% ! read article from SEAT61
A round trip from London to Geneva emits 360kg of CO2eq, 80kg by car for 3 people (or 280kg by car for one person!) and 7kg by TGV…! (or less depending on the comparators)
Even taking into account infrastructure and maintenance in the calculations, the train still has a clear advantage in France. (study in France see article)
In addition to the CO2 emitted by the production and combustion of fuel, aircraft can affect the climate through other emissions, pollutants, and atmospheric processes such as the condensation trails that can form as they pass. The French ADEME carbon base estimates that this would double the radiative forcing of aviation.
To remain on a global trajectory of +2°C maximum, the individual carbon footprint person must be divided by 5 or 6 in France and aim at 2 tonnes of CO2eq per person. Well… a return trip to New York corresponds already to the yearly budget… (knowing that we also have to eat, heat and move around on a daily basis…) Knowing that carbon offsetting is not a long-term solution to climate change, and that it is imperative to reduce emissions ; a reduction in air traffic is thus necessary to be in line with climate objectives.
Today, more and more of us are concerned about our environmental impact. In Scandinavia, Flygskam, or the shame of flying for environmental reasons, has been growing for some years. Read Why Flight shame is making people swap planes for trains or The Guardian view on ‘flight shame’: face it – life must change
We all want to be respectful visitors to the fragile and beautiful environment that we love so much. We want to continue to enjoy our mountains, but in a different way. It is time to act and taking the train is already the first important step towards sustainable tourism. We must also recall that we, inhabitants of the valley, are responsible for a part of greenhouse gases linked to transport. It is up to us to do everything we can to walk more, take our bikes, use shuttles and public transport, carpool…
For businesses, it is also important to act on tourism demand to support behavioural changes and accompany our visitors towards sustainable tourism in a systemic way.
If a significant carbon tax is introduced (based on a scenario of +1.5°C), some people may find it difficult to come to the resort by car or flight. It is therefore necessary to think upstream about decarbonised transport and sustainable mobility.
Encouraging people to take the train or use soft mobility is therefore an important step and we are working in this direction (see our AlpinExpress campaign).
Words: Alice de Chilly