Environmental Impacts
of Transport

While taking pleasure in travelling we must not forget the biggest issue our generation is facing: climate change. Not only politicians but also we as consumers have to respond to this crisis. You must not fly across Europe for a weekend city trip just because you can. It is time to put aside this selfishness and ignorance about the damage we are causing. Ultimately, we are destroying the very destinations we want to see so eagerly. Take for example tropical islands like the Maldives which are struggling with sea level rise. Those beautiful destinations are especially vulnerable to climate change. We have to face the problem and take care of our planet. Therefore, it is crucial to discuss means of transport and their environmental impact when considering responsible tourism. The tourism sector contributes about five percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions of which 75% are caused by transport. The tourism sector is a rapidly growing which makes consumer decisions even more important. It has long been known that cars, busses and airplanes emit CO2 which contributes to global warming. Therefore, in this article I provide facts about the actual emissions of different means of transport. Most of us already know that the airplane emits a lot of CO2. But how bad is it really? And which vehicles are better options when going on holidays? Who are the most eager flight passengers in the world? And, how can we reduce our emissions when traveling? In this article, I will try to give you some answers to those questions. So, let’s get started!

Car, Bus or Airplane? - The Greatest Emitters

According to the Climate Change and Tourism Report, transport causes 75% of all CO2 emissions in the global tourism sector. 40% of that is caused by air transport, 32% by cars and 3% by other means of transport. With those percentages in mind it is now time to compare how much CO2 is actually emitted by each vehicle. Although there are many other greenhouse gases (e.g. nitrogen oxide) which are still often underestimated, I’ll focus in this article on the widely known CO2 because this article is meant to visualize our carbon footprint of transport in tourism. The German Federal Environmental Agency regularly publishes reports on CO2 emissions of transport. In the table below, you can see how much gram of CO2 per person per kilometer is emitted by using different means of transport.


CO2 emissions (g/person-km) for different means of transport:

  • Airplane: 369

  • Car: 144

  • Local Bus: 95

  • Local  railway: 75

  • Metro/tram: 72

  • Intercity railway: 52

  • Long-distance bus: 32


As expected, the airplane is on top of the list. In fact, aviation produces more than two percent of all CO2 emissions. The airplane is followed by car, local railway, local bus, metro/tram and intercity railway. By far the best option is the long-distance bus for going on holiday. I want to add that those data differ substantially amongst different reports. It is difficult to find a good estimate due to the complexity and diversity of the topic. Yet air transport is always the most polluting way to travel.


The Case of Flying

Although flying is by far the worst option of going on holiday, air traffic has increased tremendously over the last decades. In 1990 there were about one billion flight passengers worldwide. By 2017 the number had quadrupled to four billion. Among all countries, the United States contributes the most to this huge number of total passengers carried in air traffic per year: a total of 849 million passengers in 2017 were recorded for the United States. They are followed by China with 551 million passengers. To grasp the extent of daily air traffic you can visit to the website https://www.flightradar24.com/. It keeps track of all flights at all times around the world and clearly shows the density of air traffic, especially in Europe and South-East Asia. The numbers listed above are total numbers of passengers carried in air transport per year. That means that we don’t know whether those people are mainly travelling due to business or holiday purposes. However, it does show that people are using the airplane more and more despite its harmful environmental impacts. Thus, there is still a long way to go in terms of awareness and change in consumption behaviour.


Low Carbon Holidays

In terms of transport for tourism there are many ways to cut back on CO2 emissions. For instance, you could consider another type of holiday. Have you ever thought of doing a biking or hiking holiday with zero emissions? Especially in Europe you have a great infrastructure for both biking and hiking. There is for example the ‘Donauradeweg’, a biking path along the Danube river which starts in Donaueschingen in Germany and ends at the Black Sea. It has a total of 2850km. You bike along the second largest river in Europe and cross ten countries. Of course, you can also just pick parts of it and enjoy the stunning cities en route like Vienna and Budapest. There is also great infrastructure for hiking in the Alps. The stunning views you have whilst hiking there are priceless. Seeing this nature may even fuel your motivation to become a more responsible tourist. You see, there are plenty of alternatives to air travel that are appealing too. 


To conclude, you can clearly see that to practice responsible tourism greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes have to be reduced. Just take the bike more often to go to the supermarket or use trains and busses if you need to travel. long distances The Netherlands is already a great example that this can work. Biking is integrated into people’s everyday lives and has above all a positive impact on their health. It seems that not many people are cutting back on flights yet though. Because of this, it is very important that you take the first step. It may feel as if you are the only one losing here. But in fact you are leading the way as a great example. I understand that a holiday that you do not reach by airplane may sound less exciting for many. But really, there are many places to discover in your home and neighbouring countries. So, cut back on flights and use busses or even the bike more often. You may be surprised which treasures are hidden in front of your doorstep.








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by Janina