CO2 footprint of travel: how harmful is the holiday to the climate?

Many people are well aware that flights and cruises are not good for the climate.

CO2 footprint of travel: how harmful is the holiday to the climate?

Many people are well aware that flights and cruises are not good for the climate. It's not for nothing that the term "flight shame" comes up. How many greenhouse gases you actually cause when traveling can be calculated - and offset.

Climate change is making many people look at travel differently. And even if the effect of the CO2 footprint caused by vacation seems negligible in view of global greenhouse gas quantities and thus global warming: it exists. If you want, you can calculate and compensate for the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the trip that you have yourself. So you can travel with a better conscience.

Briefly to classify: On average, every German produces greenhouse gas emissions of around eleven tons of CO2 equivalents per year. As an industrial nation with a high level of consumption, the Federal Republic is well above the world average. According to the Federal Environment Agency, global per capita emissions of less than one ton would be climate-friendly. So it's a long way. Climate-friendly travel can be a step in this.

This is especially true when traveling within Germany: If you prefer to travel by train or long-distance bus, the carbon footprint of the trip is much lower than in a car - at least if you travel alone - or in a plane. An example? According to the non-profit consulting company co2online, anyone traveling from Hamburg to Munich and back by coach or train saves at least 239 kilograms of CO2 equivalents compared to flying or driving (alone).

However, longer distances are hardly feasible without flying. This is where the gruener-flying.de portal comes in: Based on more than two dozen criteria, it shows the comparatively "most environmentally friendly" flights for the connection you are looking for. This involves factors such as capacity utilization and the modernity of the fleet. However, the portal makes it clear that every flight is harmful to the environment, including those listed there.

Vacationers pay a lot into their own CO2 account when they cruise. The CO2 calculator of the Federal Environment Agency gives a flat rate of a good one ton for a ten-day sea cruise, i.e. about one tenth of the annual per capita average emissions in Germany. A possible arrival by plane is not included.

In detail, the balance sheet for cruises naturally also depends on factors such as the size of the ship and the propulsion technology. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) emits slightly less CO2 than marine diesel, and LNG ships emit almost no particulate matter or sulfur oxides. However, LNG ships are by no means climate-friendly due to their equally high CO2 emissions.

If you want to calculate the CO2 footprint for your trip, you can use the CO2 calculator from the Federal Environment Agency. Here you get a rough impression of the CO2 footprint of the trip for air and ship trips, among other things. The footprint for a journey can also be calculated manually using a comparison table from the authority, which gives average values ​​for emissions of greenhouse gases in grams per passenger-kilometer for cars, buses, trains and domestic flights.

The German Energy Agency (DENA) also offers an intuitive online CO2 equivalent calculator. In addition to the CO2 footprint, it also shows route suggestions. According to DENA, the Google Maps map service is used for this function.

There are also separate CO2 calculators from compensation providers such as Atmosfair, Klima-Kollekte or Myclimate. Their business model: You pay voluntary compensation for the greenhouse gas produced by the trip. The money is then used to finance climate protection measures. Travel agencies and online booking portals often offer the possibility of such a compensation when booking.

For flights from Berlin to London and back, the amount is still quite manageable if you follow the information from the non-profit consulting company co2online: With 13 euros, the average 526 kilograms of CO2 caused are already compensated.

The further away it goes, the higher the costs: flights from Frankfurt via Los Angeles to Wellington in New Zealand and back cause 13,396 kilograms of CO2 per person - anyone who wants to fully compensate for this would have to pay 309 euros in compensation.

The travel industry has long since recognized that the climate balance of a holiday is becoming more important. According to a paper by the German Travel Association (DRV) from autumn 2021, a trend towards a more conscious approach to the “travel product” can be seen among customers, which is likely to increase significantly in the coming years. There has long been a focus on environmentally friendly and socially responsible travel is defined by the Anders Reisen forum, an association of sustainable tour operators.

What is the impact of travel on the environment? Among other things, vacationers will ask themselves this question more and more often. If in doubt, according to the DRV, book differently, to a reduced extent - or not at all. One countermeasure should be transparency. Information about the CO2 footprint for travel and accommodation should be provided when the booking is made.

The organizer Studiosus, for example, has already implemented this premise. Since May, he has been stating the CO2 emissions in all catalogues. Studiosus has been offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions of all trips made by investing in the construction of biogas plants in Nepal since 2021.

The Berlin provider Chamäleon Reisen also calculates the CO2 footprint for each trip, specifies it and, according to the information, compensates for it by placing a corresponding area of ​​rainforest under nature protection.

Rainforest protection and biogas plant construction: These two examples already show that the type of compensation can be very diverse. Travelers can hardly assess in detail how sustainable and target-oriented the offsetting projects are.

A first good sign is at least when the climate protection projects meet certain quality standards: The Federal Environment Agency names, among other things, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and The Gold Standard. Above all, they ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are actually offset at the targeted level.

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