What's the climate friendly way to go on holiday?

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 17 June 2013 16:13 GMT

The driver of a U.S.-made car used as a private collective taxi drops people at a beach on the outskirts of Havana May 19, 2013. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

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Turns out the car’s not so bad after all, as long as you follow a few rules

What’s the climate friendly way to go on holiday this year?

Turns out the answer is much the same whether you live in London, Los Angeles or Lagos – and it doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your car at home.

New research by the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway and the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis tracked the climate impacts of various ways of taking trips of 500 to 1,000 kilometres (300 to 600 miles).

Turns out that car trips aren’t too bad – as long as you share the car with two or three other people and opt for a small vehicle rather than a big one.

“Traveling alone in a large car can be as bad for the climate as flying, but driving with three in a small car could have an equally low impact as a train ride,” said Jens Borken-Kleefeld, one of the study’s lead researchers from the Austrian institute.

Traveling for 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) alone in a big car, for instance, racks up a hefty 250 kilogrammes of carbon emissions. But downsize the car, add two or three other people and your emissions, per person, plummet to 50 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide, about the same as traveling by train or bus.

Air travel remains the big problem. Per mile travelled, it has the biggest impact on climate change, both because of its big carbon dioxide emissions and because it affects climate as well through things like ozone emissions and changes to clouds as a result of jet trails.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, was based on travel in Europe but the general advice applies whether you’re in Lima or Lagos, Borken-Kleefeld said, even though the emissions standards for car, buses and trains are often more lax in those countries.

The advice for both business and holiday travel? Fill up the car with passengers if you’re driving – and choose as small a vehicle as possible. Take the coach or the train if you can. And avoid air travel as much as possible.

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