As delegates at COP27 in Egypt try to broker deals to reduce global greenhouse emissions, it’s been the perfect opportunity for climate protesters to highlight carbon-reducing travel policies—such as taxing private jets, banning short-haul flights and introducing frequent flyer taxes.
Various protests across European airports in the past few days have highlighted the role that travel has on climate change. Activists from Extinction Rebellion and Scientist Rebellion blockaded airports across the U.K., and similar events happened at airports in Berlin, Milan, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Melbourne and Ibiza.
Campaigners are arguing for a tax on people who fly a lot, and also on users of private jets. Campaigners said the latter “were five to 14 times more polluting per passenger than commercial planes, and 50 times more polluting than trains.”
It’s a political idea that seems to be gaining traction in some EU countries. For example, France banned the use of domestic short haul flights from April 2022, if a train or bus alternative of two and a half hours or less exists.
And the French government has recently touted the idea of taxing private jets. The French Transport Minister Clement Beaune told a France 2 TV interviewer, “I believe that when there’s a train alternative, when there’s a commercial flight — which emit four times less carbon per passenger than private jets, that should be the preferred option.”
COP27 is a good example of the difficulties in promoting sustainable travel when some delegates have been traveling on private jets. BBC News reported that FlightRadar data showed 36 private jets landed at Sharm el-Sheikh between 4 and 6 November, and 64 flew into Cairo, 24 of which had come from Sharm el-Sheikh.
The last time it took place in Glasgow, the COP26 had the largest footprint of any of the COPs so far. In fact, the carbon footprint of COP26 was considered in some circles to be as much as twice that of COP25, mostly due to the impact of international flights taken to get there and back and many delegates came under pressure because they traveled in private jets. In its defence, significantly more people (12,000) attended COP26 in Glasgow than COP25 in Madrid.
COP27 runs in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from 6 to 18 November and whilst most people will arrive by plane, a team of University College London researchers, led by professor Priti Parikh, has provided alternative methods of transport to Cop27, complete with an open-source calculator for measuring the carbon consequences of traveling to the conference. For EU-based participants, rather than taking a direct flight, a train to Milan is a good option, then picking up a plane to cross the Mediterranean.
However, because of the location of the conference in Egypt, flights are inevitable because of the “geopolitical issues in nearby Libya and Syria, and a lack of transport links from Europe.” One key takeaway from the team’s report would be, that despite the need to promote global equity by hosting COPs in different countries, it would be better to locate future COPs in places that are accessible by a larger (and more carbon friendly) transport infrastructure.
Hundreds of individuals are taking part in charity events to raise awareness of COP27, many of them traveling to the conference itself in a sustainable fashion. Four men have cycled 655 kilometres (400 miles) to Sharm El-Sheikh from the German International University in Cairo to raise awareness for climate change. Another, Ali Abdo, is riding 20,000 kilometres (12,500 miles) on a motorbike over 30 days from the deserts of ancient Egypt to the seaside resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.