The carbon footprint of long distance traveling

“Does it really matter that much if I fly?” – it’s the question that all of us who both love to travel and care about the climate ask ourselves. The short answer is yes, because it is such a large part of the emissions you as an individual can control. But let’s investigate a little more!

According to the European Environment Agency, aviation globally accounts for 3 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions. It may not sound like much, but to this we must also add the radiative forcing index* which increases the impact on the climate by another 70-90%. 

Moreover, the impact from flights is not evenly distributed over the earth’s population – 80% of the earth’s population has never flown (estimate)! So we who fly contribute a disproportionate amount. International flight traffic from Sweden has actually increased by more than 90% since 2005! We who fly thus belong to a relatively small group that contributes very much to this part of the global emissions.

Are you a frequent flyer?

How much does a flight actually emit?

Considering the radiative forcing index and the most complete calculations of fuel production and consumption, one passenger flight hour causes approx 200 kg CO2e. This is a rough estimate as many factors are unknown; airplane model, wind speed, occupancy rate etc., but is a good rule of thumb to get the right perspective.

So this is how much long flights can add to your carbon footprint:

  • London – Rome – 290 kg CO2e
  • London – New York – 857 kg CO2e
  • London – Cape Town – 2311 kg CO2e
  • London – Sydney – 4905 kg CO2e

In comparison, traveling from London to Rome by train emits only 52,2 kg of CO2e – but it sure takes a lot more time too. 

What can we do to reduce our emissions from flights?

The first question to ask is, can the flight be avoided? Many business meetings could be held remotely, and save a lot of stress for workers as well. But business travelers make up only 12% of passengers, so the leisure trips are far more. 

Cut your flights with 50% – there are two ways of doing this, either to fly half as often and maybe go every other year, or cut the distances in half. Instead of flying London to New York, perhaps Istanbul or Marrakesh could be interesting alternatives for half the CO2 budget. Or, you know, the train to Paris. 

Is there an alternative to flying? Train, or coach, is often the only imaginable option. This means we have to change our expectations, and make the journey part of the experience. Perhaps you can get an overnight train? Or get some work done? Or some alone time, finally catching up on that book you’ve been meaning to read. If you are going to meet someone, consider if they can meet you halfway. London to Rome is far, but perhaps a weekend in Lyon or Geneva could be a good compromise!

Seeing the bigger picture

It is evident that we need more change. Some push for it on an individual basis, like Mattias Goldmann who takes the train from northern Sweden to Barcelona, to companies improving night train connections within Europe to China building the next generation of high speed trains. Is there something you can do? Can you be a pioneer train rider, write letters to politicians, or engineer the next generation of trains? If we are to continue traveling, this all needs to be resolved!

*Radiative Forcing Index
This means that the climate impact of aviation is more than just carbon dioxide emissions, because emissions of water vapor and nitrogen oxides at high altitudes (from around 8000 m) and the condensation streaks from the plane also affect the climate. How this is calculated is very complex, as it depends on many different factors and the effect varies. A rough estimate lands on 70-90% higher climate impact than just carbon dioxide emissions – almost twice as much!

The carbon footprint of our traveling

Us humans are really good at getting places. Nowadays, we do it both for fun and for necessity – and sometimes the line between fun and necessity is very blurry. There is no shame in traveling and wanting to go places! But how we do so has an impact on our climate, so it is worth considering how we travel, and how much we do so.

The average swede is responsible for emitting 1,96 tonnes of CO2 from travels every year – excluding international flights. The estimate for Germans is slightly lower – 1,56 tonnes. To reduce this number by 50% every decade can be tackled in two ways: reducing the number and distance of our journeys, and traveling by more climate-friendly modes. Using both strategies and adjusting our behavior as well as reducing the climate impact of our vehicles will take us all the way, literally!

How do you get to school or work every day?

What are the best ways to get around?

The zero emission options are walking and biking (obviously). Sure, producing bikes and shoes has a carbon footprint, but compared to all other means of transportation, it’s minimal. And if you take good care of your bike, it will last for decades! If you know how to bike and live in an area where it is safe enough to do so, it is also a healthy means of transportation. If you plan your trip using a service like google maps, you can see how long it takes you to get places by foot or by bike and in cities, it is often not much more than other alternatives. If the weather allows, this is a good option!

If walking or biking is not possible, the second best option is public transport. The big win here is that the emissions are shared with other travelers, but also that the number of vehicles used is significantly reduced. A standard bus can carry 50 passengers, so even if it’s only half full, it reduces congestion on the roads, and we need less cars! General emission per person traveling on a local bus is 90 grams of CO2 per km, and 30 grams for coach (long distance bus). If there is a rail option, that’s even less: 30 grams per passenger km for metro (London Underground) and 35 grams for light rail and tram. For long distance trains the emissions are 40 grams per passenger km in the UK, and only 6 gram for international trains. This depends on the energy source for the trains: in Sweden, almost all trains run on renewable energy, whereas in Germany many regional railways still operate on diesel.

Two million people travel in the London Underground every day

Does it really make a difference?

How does this compare to a car? The average diesel car in the EU emits 146 g co2 per km! This is five times more than taking the metro and 1,5 times as much as the local bus. And petrol (gasoline) cars are on par with that, at 148 g co2 per km in the EU. It is worth noting, however, that cars in the US emit significantly more – 252 g co2 per km, or 404 g co2 per mile. This is because the average car in the US is larger and consumes more gasoline than cars in the EU. The same is true for the Australian car fleet.

Commuting to work, 20 km per day 5 days per week for 47 weeks per year would thus result in:

  • 141 kg co2e by metro
  • 423 kg co2e by local bus
  • 701 kg co2e by diesel car (EU – 1 passenger)
  • 1210 kg co2e by gasoline car (USA – 1 passenger)

Drive in a better way?

What can be done about this? First of all, try to avoid unnecessary driving. If you have to go by car because there is no public transport, see if you can share the ride with someone, or plan your errands efficiently. If you are anyways going to the supermarket, maybe your neighbor could need a ride too, or just a bag of oranges? Another option is to join a carpool – there are even alternatives offering electric cars! For less frequent drives and especially in larger cities, this can be a great option.

Moreover, we need to use cars that are not as bad for the climate! If you can, using an electric car and running it on renewable energy is the best option. There are other alternative fuels that are also better for the climate than diesel and gasoline – see if you can find HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil), FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) or CNG (Compressed Natural Gas).

We need to stop using fossil fuel to power our vehicles

This post has covered everyday travels, but also check out the post on long-distance traveling.

Switching to an electric car without breaking the bank

Note: This is a personal story from team member Stefan

I just recently moved out of the city and to a town in the mountains of Sweden. Having always before been able to use public transportation, I found myself in a place where I now need a car to get around, while also being fully out of reach of any car sharing services. This is my story of researching reasonably priced alternatives for getting a car with the least possible climate footprint.

If you are able to use car sharing services or public transportation, you should always consider not owning a car at all. If not, read on to learn a few surprising facts that make getting a brand new electric car more reasonable than you’d think.

Note – make sure to top up your car with green electricity!

Requirements and options

I knew from the outset that the long-term goal was to get an electric car. I just didn’t know if our fincancial situation would support this right away. My partner and I make good money, but not by any means enough that we can afford to freely just lease or buy any car. We do, however, have the ability to increase our loans at a reasonable interest rate to be able to pay for a new car, provided that the purchase doesn’t turn into the money sink that new car purchases traditionally are.


We are looking for a car that works for typical usage. We’ll be driving both short distances and long. It’s going to be our only car. So what we end up with has to:

  • Have range enough to be workable on long journeys.
  • Be big enough that we can bring outdoors gear like skis and big backpacks on trips.

Getting into specifics, I looked into three categories of cars to consider:

  • Fully electric cars, new from dealerships.
  • Plug-in hybrid cars, second hand.
  • For comparison and as a last resort, lower priced regular gasoline cars, second hand.

The reason that second hand fully electric cars are not on this is that they’re very close in price to brand new cars (more on that later), and by going for a new car we would have the ability to get a tow bar that we can mount a bike rack on. If you don’t need a tow bar, there is a (small) market of second hand fully electric cars with long range (350 km/220 miles or longer). If you’re able to get one of those, you can make the financials for electric cars later in this post even better.

Go for a long drive without emissions

Plug-in hybrid cars

My initial thought was that plug-in hybrid cars would be the most reasonable option while waiting for fully electric cars to come down in price. But after looking into it, two factors make them less attractive than one would think.

First, if you regularly drive longer than the battery lasts (usually around 30-40 km/20-25 miles), you end up with a very thirsty car. Most plug-in hybrids are very heavy cars and have fuel consumption upwards of 10 l/100 km (as low as 25 mpg) after the battery depletes. For all but the very shortest trips, this defeats the fuel savings of having a battery.

Second, these cars are basically two cars in one that both need maintenance. In terms of maintenance cost, they are are, if anything, more expensive to keep running than even traditional combustion cars.

If you’re able to charge at home, drive almost exclusively within the short battery range and are strictly limited in purchase price, then maybe a plug-in hybrid car be a good option. Otherwise, I have a hard time justifying them as a way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. For us, getting an efficient combustion or non-plug-in hybrid car, would actually have been a better choice.

Brand new electric cars

Fully electric cars used to be crazy expensive, but this is fast changing. For sale right now with 350 km/220 miles of range or more in the most affordable price range are three models: the Kia e-Soul, Kia e-Niro, and Hyundai Kona Electric. Available for order this year and with delivery dates within a year you’ll also find the Volkswagen ID.3 and Skoda Enyaq iV.

All of these sell for around €45,000 (in Europe), but a few insights helped me realize this relatively high price isn’t as bad as it seems:

  • Many countries have government grants when buying new electric cars. In Sweden, the grant is about €5,800.
  • Maintenance, vehicle/road taxes, and, most strikingly, driving costs are way lower for electric cars.
  • Value depreciation is, as mentioned earlier, not at all as bad as with non-electric cars, especially when taking government grants into account. For the models I looked at, one year old cars with above average milage were selling for just around €5,000 – €7,000 lower than the brand new price after grants. This reasonably gets much better (on a monthly basis) if you keep the car for 2 or 3 years, but there are no numbers for that as all these models initially went for sale just last year.

The numbers

So let’s look at the numbers. All figures are yearly costs in Sweden converted to Euros. I’ve used the best sources I could find, trying to find actual maintenance costs from current owners and quoting insurance for these models for myself.

New Hyundai Kona ElectricSecond hand Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (2017)Second hand Opel Astra (2015)
Maintenance€210€500€500
Vehicle/road tax€35€35€135
Insurance€350€650€350
Electricity1 3€380€3502
Fuel1€4052€1,360
Total€975€1,940€2,345
  1. Using the average yearly milage in Sweden of 15,000 km per year.
  2. These calculations assume 50% usage on battery for the plug-in hybrid.
  3. Electricity costs of 0.2 Euros/kWh.

At this point, before financing, we’re looking at a monthly cost of €81 for the fully electric car, as compared to €161 for the plug-in hybrid and €195 for the combustion car.

So you’ll have €114/month extra to put towards financing of the more expensive electric car. Even though this is better than one might think already, chances are that the €114 won’t be enough regardless of how you choose to finance the car. Which brings me to…

How to make the car free

More and more people want to drive electric and more and more people are looking to car sharing services to replace car ownership. So for those of us who have to own a car, let’s contribute to the other side of that equation and make our cars available for others to rent. Renters will look to the cheap-to-drive and climate friendly electric cars, and owners of those cars can use that income to bridge the cost gap compared to traditional cars.

Sharing is caring – also for the climate

Looking at the two big options available in Sweden, Snappcar and GoMore (also available in a number of other European countries), you can expect around €300-400/month for renting your car a few times each month. Together with the €100+/month you’re saving in driving costs, you’re now looking at upwards of €500/month in combined savings and income that can be put towards financing of the car. This sealed the deal for us, because depending on how much we rent the car out, we actually have a decent chance of having the car pay for itself entirely.

On top of that, we’re now helping others reduce their carbon footprints in addition to reducing our own.

New Year’s Climate Resolution

2020 is just around the corner, and it has to be the year we all step up our efforts to stop climate change!

This needs to be a year of massive action, on all levels. Of course, we are all hoping for radical climate policy on national level, but we also have to be part of the transition on an individual level. That way, we signal to both politicians and big business that we are serious about wanting change! And we need to move towards minimal CO2 lifestyles, as fast as possible.

I have always travelled a lot, and it is a major part of my identity. The world is such a glorious place and I am so curious to experience it! I am convinced that it has helped me become both more informed about the complexities of today, but also more compassionate towards others. This, however, has had a massive CO2 footprint. Only in 2019, my flight emissions were 3,19 tonnes of CO2e.

Feeling regret about our past emissions is hardly helpful. We need to start somewhere, and it is never too late to do better. But if we want to stop climate change, we need to start now!

Therefore, my new years climate resolution is to stay on the ground to keep fossil fuels in the ground! I am keen to explore my more immediate surroundings by train, foot and other climate friendly means of transportation. After all, travelling in Sweden and Europe has a lot to offer! On top of that, knowing how many tonnes of CO2 I can keep from getting into the atmosphere is definitely a good motivation.

On a train through Austria in 2017. Those landscapes!

Kalle is already standing steadily with both feet on the ground! So his commitment to the climate and the environment for 2020 is to not buy any new electronics or clothes! The GoClimate blog has posts about electronics and sustainable fashion if you want some inspiration to join Kalle on his journey. A pair of jeans is estimated to emit 6 kg CO2eq, whereas a 15-inch MacBook Pro is 560 kg CO2eq – and that is not considering the potential pollution and ethical concerns regarding mining for minerals.

Cissi has worked a lot on her own emission sources, and for 2020 she wants to, at least, participate at twice as many climate strikes compared to 2019 and have a larger impact on her surroundings by influencing her tenant owners’ association. By talking to her neighbours, she is aiming to take the lead to make the apartment block more sustainable. That way, they can make collective decisions (perhaps some solar panels?) but also she can reach individuals in her immediate surrounding and lead by example.

Evelina wants to focus on food and soil health for 2020. She wants to lower her food waste, eat more locally produced and learn more about regenerative farming.

Our collaborator Marlena has decided to “be a more annoying customer” – to ask at the restaurant if they have sustainable (MSC certified) fish, if the taxi company has electric cars, etc. By doing so, she will voice the demand for sustainable offers from customers to service providers. Doing so, in a positive and encouraging way! Take the lead!

Are you also staying on the ground in 2020? What is your pledge for a cooler future? Let us know and join us in being part of the solution!

Introduction of our new blogger, Evelina Utterdahl

My name is Evelina Utterdahl and I will be blogging here at Go Climate Neutral from now on.

I thought an introduction would be suitable so that you know a little bit more about who’s behind the thoughts and words to come.

Picture from Tbilisi, Georgia in June 2018 to where I went from Iran through Armenia, before traveling back towards Europe. All without flying.

Born and raised in the west of Sweden and I travel full time since 2,5 years and basically everything I do has some relation to sustainability and how to fight global warming.

I do talks at events, schools or organisations of which most of them are about sustainable travel, and how to travel without flying.

Social media is also kinda my thing, and I post on my own account @earthwanderess as well as being the coordinator of the international Instagram account for Extinction Rebellion. I also do the instagram for @vihallerosspajorden who started the campaign Flight Free 2020 where I am also part of the board.

You can also expect me to be part of taking care of our Instagram account at @goclimateneutral.

A bit of background of to how I got here. It started off with me traveling a lot and with that experience started writing travel articles for an online site.

While I was aware of airplanes being bad for the environment, I had no comprehension of just how big of an impact it had. I learned the numbers while stumbling over an article and was horrified. I felt so fooled as the whole world was acting as if flying airplanes and traveling across the world for leisure was something that we could do. As if it wasn’t as bad as it actually is.

I decided to quit flying that day.

From the Swedish TV show PLUS in October 2018, where I came on and talked about how to travel sustainably

The realisation of how little information about the severity of the situation we’re in had me needing to dig deeper and find out as much as I possibly could to lower my individual impact as well as use my rather big platform on social media to spread the knowledge I collected.

I am very excited to be able to come here on this platform on Go Climate Neutral, to reach a new audience where I can share all the thoughts and information that I pick up on a daily basis.

I hope you will learn new things and hopefully that my posts will also enable you to start conversations with friends, family and colleagues.

If you have any ideas of topics you’d like me to bring up, or if you have any feedback for my posts please feel free to send me a message at:

[email protected]