The Environmental Impact of Airplane CO2 Emissions

Travelling has at this point become a crucial part of our lives. Nowadays, it has even become a habit that people travel at least once a year to some destination. They mostly prefer to either get there by plane, train, car or camping van. These means of transportation have undoubtedly come as a revolution to societies and needless to say, they have made our lives easier. However, their impact on the environment is also significant and should be discussed to raise the awareness of people globally.

green aviation

Ever since 1903 when the airplane was invented, traveling by plane has been one of the most popular forms of travel. But what impact do airplanes have on the environment? What is their annual CO2 emission? Are there more sustainable alternatives when it comes to traveling? In the following paragraphs we will answer these questions and much more.

How Much CO2 Do Airplanes Emit?

Unfortunately, airplanes emit a considerable amount of CO2. Although they are able to cut the duration of the journey by significant amounts, their impact on the environment is definitely felt. For example, a journey that would typically take 10-12 hours by car can be done in 90 minutes by plane. But, the question arises, at what cost?

According to reports, airplanes contribute 2.5% of the global CO2 emissions, while until now they have also contributed 4% to global warming. As a matter of fact, airplanes emit 100 times more CO2 when compared to other means of transportation such as trains or buses. These amounts are definitely alarming and should be talked about.

What Could We Do About This?

The guilt, obviously, falls into people. Airplanes cannot fly on their own, hence the inhabitants of Earth themselves are contributing to this pollution. Nevertheless, we cannot simply get rid of airplanes and move back to prehistoric means of traveling. But what we can do is that we can take a few measures when it comes to traveling and that will benefit the environment eventually. So, what can we do?

One of the things that has recently become popular among people is the frequency of short trips. Whether it is because people cannot afford long trips financially or they are too busy working, they decide to take 2 to 4 days trips and fly somewhere. To illustrate, if you decide to travel from Europe to the US and spend 3 days in NYC, you will have generated approximately 1.6 metric tons of CO2 for this round trip. Is that fair to the planet? Definitely not.

So, probably the first advice would be to cancel unnecessary trips that cause this crazy amount of CO2 emission. Then, another advice is to take the train when traveling cross countries, wherever possible. This has been an ongoing campaign from countries worldwide which tries to make the railroad systems even better than they are and also cheaper, so people opt to travel by train.


The Environmental Consequences

It was previously mentioned that the disadvantage of airplanes is that they emit CO2. But how does that CO2 really impact the environment? The CO2 emission of airplanes and any other CO2 contributor causes the so-called greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is basically the process of trapping the heat within Earth’s atmosphere, which consequently causes the global warming situation.

Global warming is manifested in different ways, such as sea level rises, severe weather conditions and other disruptions of the ecosystems worldwide. Unfortunately, apart from CO2, airplanes also emit other gases such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) which is also considered a pollutant of the atmosphere. As a result, the air quality of planet Earth is affected, and the climate issues are further worsened.

Sustainable Alternatives

In this section, few sustainable alternatives are listed when it comes to how we, as people of this planet, can do our part in saving the environment from CO2 emissions.

1. Use trains or busses for short trips

A train, a bus or a plane will all get you to the same destination. So, why not opt for the least harmful means of transportation like a shared bus or train? It is true that it might take you longer to reach the destination via bus or train. However, considering that you have to be at the airport at least 2 hours prior, checking your bag in, the duration of the flight, getting out of the plane and claiming your baggage will more or less result at the same time as traveling by train or bus from point A to point B.

2. Avoid unnecessary business trips

Tech advancements have made it possible to have any meeting online. Thus, before planning and scheduling your next business trip, think about the necessity to do it. If this trip only includes meetings that could be realized via one of the video conferencing platforms, then why not do it online? Virtual meetings in particular are definitely one of the more sustainable options that could replace business trips almost altogether.

3. Choose fuel-efficient aircraft

If flying is absolutely unavoidable, there are airplanes that are built to support fuel-efficiency and there are also airlines that invest in carbon offset programs. In such a case, when booking a flight ticket have a look at these two elements and try to book with those airlines as this way you will contribute towards at least mitigating the impact of airplanes on the environment.

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About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA, and an international consultant, advisor, ecopreneur and journalist with expertise in waste management, waste-to-energy, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainable development. His geographical areas of focus include Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biomass energy, biogas, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. He has participated in numerous conferences and workshops as chairman, session chair, keynote speaker and panelist. Salman is the Editor-in-Chief of EcoMENA, and is a professional environmental writer with more than 300 popular articles to his credit. He is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability in different parts of the world. Salman Zafar can be reached at or

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