A new study has found that a tiny minority – 1% – of the world's population causes half of global aviation emissions.
The study by Sweden's Linnaeus University drew together data to give the clearest global picture of the impact of frequent fliers. It found that only 11% of the world's population took a flight in 2018, and only 4% of these flew abroad.
US air passengers have by far the biggest carbon footprint among rich countries. Its aviation emissions are bigger than the next 10 countries combined, including the UK, Japan, Germany and Australia, the study reports.
The study, published today by The Guardian, lays out in stark terms how flying is an unequal activity, available largely to the world's richest minority.
Your average Fijian fisherman, Indian cotton farmer or Tanzanian herdsman is unlikely to be responsible for aviation's carbon emissions but is already on the frontline of climate change's impacts.
Yet this tiny group of frequent flying 'super emitters' has an impact on climate change – experienced by us all – that is out of all proportion to their number. The researchers estimated the cost of climate damage caused by aviation in 2018 was $100 billion.
Global aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis was growing fast before the Covid-19 pandemic, with emissions jumping by 32% from 2013-18, and although flight numbers have halved in 2020 due to Covid19, the industry expects to return to its previous levels by 2024.
Stefan Gössling at Linnaeus University, who led the study, says if we want to resolve climate change ,we must redesign aviation – and that means starting at the top. One suggestion is to put green conditions on the bailouts that governments are currently providing to airlines, as has been done in France, in order to make the industry fairer and more sustainable.
'The rich have had far too much freedom to design the planet according to their wishes,' he told The Guardian. 'We should see the crisis as an opportunity to slim the air transport system.'
Findings such as these also have important implications for business travellers. Although Covid19 has postponed most international meetings and conferences during 2020, these figures provide sobering food for thought when contemplating when – or if – to resume face-to-face events post the pandemic.