Study identifies travel choices for a smaller carbon footprint

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Planes, trains, or automobiles: what’s the most climate-friendly way to travel? A new study by researchers from IIASA and CICERO brings better estimates of how much personal travel impacts the climate. The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology by researchers at IIASA and Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO) calculates the climate impact for passenger trips of 500-1000 km — typical distances for business or holiday trips. It shows that while air travel continues to have the biggest climate impact per distance travelled, the choices that people make about how they drive or take public transport make a big difference in how much they contribute to climate change.

“Traveling alone in a large car can be as bad for the climate as flying, but driving with three in a small car could have an equally low impact as a train ride,” says IIASA’s Jens Borken-Kleefeld. A 1000 km trip alone in a big car could emit as much as 250 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2), the researchers calculate, while a train trip or carpooling in a small car could emit as little as 50 kg of CO2 for each traveler.

Air travel has by far the biggest impact on climate per distance traveled, because it can lead to contrails and formation of cirrus clouds that have a strong climate impact, as well as ozone. These mechanisms have a strong effect on the climate, but cause warming over much shorter periods of time than CO2.

 

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