A study in Nature Climate Change showed that 8% of global carbon emissions came from the tourism industry in 2018. Unsurprisingly, flying made up a large share . Fuelled by Greta Thunberg’s yacht journey across the Atlantic in 2019 , the spotlight was on aviation’s role in the climate crisis and 2020 was set to be the year of change. Then Covid came along.
Tourist destinations recorded 1bn fewer international arrivals in 2020 than 2019. The number of air passengers fell by 60%, and as a result CO2 emissions from flying fell by 40%.
But as vaccines are rolled out around the world, many of us are eager to start planning getaways .
The question is, how do we opt for low-carbon holidays while maintaining the economic benefits that the tourism industry brings to communities around the world?
Will zero emissions aviation ever take off? It isn’t ‘pie in the sky’ but it’s definitely going to be a long haul journey
Aviation is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise but low-emission innovations should play a major part in aviation’s post-COVID recovery .
With zero carbon technologies like electric or hydrogen years away, the aviation industry needs to find innovative solutions in the short to medium term. One readily available option is Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) which are non-fossil-fuel based. They include:
Biofuels - made from sources such as used cooking oil ; waste oils from animals or plants; and solid waste from homes and businesses, such as packaging, paper, textiles, and food scraps that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration .
Synthetic fuels - hydrogen plays a small part in the aviation fuel mix currently. However, a recent study for the EU found that hydrogen – as a primary energy source or as part of synthetic fuels – could power short-range aircraft by 2035.
Synthetic fuels are made directly from CO2 captured from the atmosphere through a power-to-liquid (PtL) process. The idea is that renewable electricity powers an electrolyser which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon to create a new fuel. The main barriers are high costs and the large amounts of renewable energy needed.
Using Sustainable Aviation Fuels could reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel. And it provides a ‘drop-in’ solution (i.e. they can be used with little/no change to engine technology or airport infrastructure).
Even if Sustainable Aviation Fuels become the norm, we still need to change our approach to travel as individuals. So what are the alternatives to flying?
Travelling as a foot passenger on a ferry is a great way to save emissions
If you’ve got more time on your hands for your holiday, many of the ports in the UK, Ireland, France, The Netherlands and Spain are well served by public transport. You could make cost and emissions savings! There are lots of helpful guides to flight-free travel routes from the UK to Europe.
The Eurostar is also a great low carbon option
As well as having a lower carbon footprint than travelling by air or car, going by train also provides opportunities for making the journey a part of the experience by taking the scenic route .
Once you’re on holiday, it’s much more carbon efficient to travel by public transport or hire an electric car rather than a petrol/diesel car
As well as the obvious carbon savings, travelling by public transport allows you to experience the country like a local and you might see places you’d otherwise miss. If you hire an electric car , just make sure to check the location of charging points on your journey. Chargemap is a good starting point or the AA has some useful information on charging an electric vehicle around Europe .
Looking for sustainable accommodation isn’t so simple
There are about 180 sustainable certification labels in the tourism industry which can get a little confusing. Some reliable indicators are whether a company is classified as a ‘B Corporation’ or if they’re accredited by organisations such as ‘Green Tourism’ or the ‘Global Sustainable Tourism Council’ .
Supporting local food producers is a chance to lower your carbon footprint and support local communities who might have struggled during the pandemic
Look out for restaurants linked with the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and if you’re cooking, plan ahead, go to a local market and bring your own bags to reduce plastic use .
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has called for a “responsible recovery of the tourism sector” in order to “balance the needs of people, the planet and prosperity.” So it will be interesting to see what initiatives will come from the Climate Friendly Travel programme and COP 26