To Fly or Not to Fly: Unraveling the Eco-Riddle of Air Travel

In an era of escalating environmental concerns, the imperative to mitigate carbon emissions has come to the forefront. The Paris Agreement, with its ambitious objectives, sets targets to cap global warming below 1.5 Celsius and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Individuals, communities, and industries are grappling with the impacts of their choices, emphasizing the importance of data on our carbon footprint. With the Paris Agreement’s mandate of limiting CO2 emissions per person to 2T annually, travel decisions hold significant importance. Recent research on individual CO2 emissions sheds light on sustainable travel choices and the aviation industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. In this heightened environmental awareness era, young people play a crucial role in shaping sustainable practices for the future.


EPFL’s research exhibition statistics:

The gravity of our travel choices is vividly underscored by the staggering statistics emanating from the EPFL community. With more than 20,000 flights undertaken by the community in 2019 alone, the cumulative CO2 emissions, totaling approximately 16,600T, cast a sobering shadow over the environmental impact of air travel. This data serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for conscientious decision-making within our travel habits, prompting a critical reflection on the measures we can collectively adopt to steer towards a more sustainable trajectory. As youth, we must recognize our accountability in these choices and actively contribute to initiatives aimed at mitigating the environmental impact of air travel.

Statistics from the research displayed on EPFL’s campus.

As we witness the pressing need to curb carbon emissions, the conscious travelers who opt to limit air travel deserve applause. Their efforts to reduce reliance on high-emission modes of transportation, like airplanes, may seem commendable, but it raises the question: does this decision truly translate into a significant reduction in their environmental footprint?


Aviation’s Climate Impact: A Global Perspective:

According to data from -a collaborative effort between researchers at Oxford University and the non-profit organization Global Change Data Lab (GCDL) referenced in the largest media websites like BBC, the Guardian, or New York Times-, a revealing perspective emerges when we delve into the global landscape of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, aviation-related emissions worldwide accounted for merely 1.32 billion tonnes, positioning it as the second smallest contributor among various sectors. Surprisingly, other sectors, such as transportation and energy production, emitted significantly larger amounts, totaling 8.48 billion tonnes and 15.82 billion tonnes, respectively. This data challenges the common assumption that limiting air travel alone is the most impactful way to address climate change, prompting a reevaluation of where the most substantial environmental gains can be made.

Screenshot captured from the website indicating the CO2 emissions of each sector.

The aviation industry emerges as the second lowest polluter among various sectors due in large part to the adoption of cutting-edge technologies in aircraft manufacturing. According to Airbus, a prominent player in the aerospace industry, their new-generation aircraft incorporate advanced materials and high-performance engines, resulting in a remarkable reduction of up to -25% in CO2 emissions per passenger. Additionally, concerted efforts within the aviation sector to utilize sustainable aviation fuel further contribute to environmental sustainability. This innovative fuel, produced from used fat, oil, grease, as well as municipal and agricultural wastes, has the potential to significantly lower emissions. These dual strategies of advanced aircraft technologies and sustainable fuel underscore the industry’s dedication to mitigating its carbon footprint and aligning with global climate goals.

Screenshot captured from the website of Airbus, showcasing the evolution of their aircraft.


Reframing the Debate: Aviation’s Role in Climate Action:

According to Airbus, which provides the numerical statistics, despite the substantial progress made in reducing emissions per passenger per kilometer by 50% since 1990 and the ongoing commitment to achieving genuine decarbonization by 2050, there remains a disconnect with some advocating for the outright ban or drastic reduction of air travel. This perspective, while well-intentioned, may risk overlooking the significant efforts and innovations within the aviation sector. The industry’s strides toward sustainability, exemplified by advanced technologies and the use of sustainable aviation fuel, challenge the notion that eliminating air travel is the sole solution. It’s essential to critically assess and acknowledge these ongoing initiatives with data provided by industry leaders, such as Airbus, in the quest for a more environmentally responsible future.

Screenshot captured from the website of Airbus showcasing their reduction of emissions timeline.


Towards Sustainable Skies: Collaborative Strategies for Responsible Travel:

In the pursuit of sustainable practices, it becomes clear that a thoughtful and informed approach is essential. As we grapple with the tensions between reducing our environmental footprint and embracing the advancements within the aviation sector, the challenge remains: can we navigate this delicate balance and collectively steer towards a future where responsible travel is both a reality and a priority?

In this endeavor, fostering collaboration among industry stakeholders, policymakers, and the public is paramount. Establishing a multi-faceted dialogue that includes diverse perspectives will enrich our understanding and generate holistic solutions. Heightened awareness is crucial, not only to the challenges at hand but also to the potential benefits and innovations that can arise from sustainable practices in the aviation industry.

The answer to this challenge lies in continued dialogue, awareness, and a commitment to exploring innovative solutions on our journey toward a more sustainable world. Embracing emerging technologies, advocating for policy changes, and encouraging responsible consumer choices are integral components of this transformative process. By collectively engaging in these efforts, we can shape a future where responsible travel is not just a goal but a shared commitment to the well-being of our planet and future generations.

As young individuals, we stand at the forefront of shaping our planet’s future. We must remain vigilant and informed about environmental issues, discerning between genuine efforts and misleading claims. Our choices today will reverberate for generations to come, underscoring the importance of making well-informed decisions regarding our carbon footprint. By staying aware and critically evaluating the information presented to us, we can ensure that our actions align with our commitment to safeguarding the environment for the benefit of all. Our planet is not just our home; it’s our future.


Stylianos Vlazakis & Dimos Tychalas

Innovation Time Lausanne

logo Innovation Time Lausanne





Statistics referring to the EPFL community are found in the on-campus exhibition

Last modified: 6 mars 2024

One Response to :
To Fly or Not to Fly: Unraveling the Eco-Riddle of Air Travel

  1. Lorjen dit :

    Very insightful article, thanks for sharing.

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