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Travelling by plane: what is the ecologic impact?

If flying is the transport means with the strongest growth since its democratization in the 60s, it also is the most pollutant. Solutions do exist to be aware of the impact of our travelling by plane on ecology and compensate the CO2 emissions by travelling more responsibly.

As a reminder, the transport sector in France represents over a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions, the first cause of global warming.

In 2013, France became the 1st European country to set up a display on greenhouse gas. Every contractor involved in the transport sector has the obligation to inform passengers of the quantity of CO2 emitted during their travel. The communication means is unrestricted (poster, website…), but the calculation is common to all transports. The goal: to increase alertness and guide travelers towards more respectful solutions for the environment.

Measure the CO2 impact of our journeys

Several online tools can help us calculate our carbon footprint. One of them is the eco-journey comparator set up by ADEME (Agency of the Environment and the Control of Energy “Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie”), it measures the environmental impact of our journeys.

For a return-trip Paris-Berlin, the carbon report can be multiplied by ten depending on the chosen travelling means. When a train trip emits 21 kg of CO2 per passenger, the rate rises to 150 kg for a trip by car (gas) and 255 kg for a flight in economy class. These figures vary depending on the relative weight of passengers.

According to a survey (ordered by “Banque Mondiale” in 2013, a flight in business class emits three time the carbon dioxide in economy class and nine times in first class.

The aeronautic sector is responsible for 2% of the CO2 emissions. A percentage that can seem low, except when we know what are the impact on the ozone layer: released in the troposphere and not on the terrestrial surface, the carbon dioxide finds its potential impact increased. Added to this are other greenhouse gas hardly measurable: nitrogen oxide, emitted during take-off and condensation trails.

Even though the CO2 emissions are minor compared to the road traffic, flying has had a growth that is largely superior to any other type of transport. An evolution resulting from international discussions but also the elongation of the travelled distanced.

So, how can we travel ecologically when flying is the only way to travel long distance in a short amount of time?

Last ecological resort: carbon compensation

Not very popular amongst people, the voluntary carbon credit was widely spread within companies and collectivities during the last few years. The “carbon unit” is the emission volume we wish to compensate and aims to fund greenhouse reduction projects worldwide: reforestation, solar cookers constructions, bioclimatic housing…


Contrary to compulsory compensation certificates delivered by United Nations as part of the Kyoto protocol, the voluntary market isn’t ruled. To ensure the reliability of the operator – which number has quickly increased- you can choose an organization to take over your greenhouse gas which should be part of the ADEME chart.

The compensation platform Solidary CO2 (CO2 Solidaire), pioneer on the French market, calculates our CO2 emission rate according to the transport mode, its cost is then affected to an environmental project in France or abroad. Another actor on the market is the programAction Carbone Solidaire”, launched by photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, aiming for projects of CO2 capture by vegetation.

Faced with travelers’ new preoccupation, some agencies offer its customers to directly impact the cost of their CO2 emission when booking their plane tickets. Allibert Trecking, a responsible tourism specialist, offers this service as an option to its customers and systematically applies it to its employees’ travels. Local initiatives were launched, for example the agency Bali Autrement, chose to establish a partnership with Solidary CO2 for its domestic flights.

Although we are not reducing properly our ecological footprint to its source, this modest act allows us to lessen it and to travel with another perspective.

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