Estimating greenhouse gas emissions from travel – a GIS-based study
- Physical Geography & Environmental Change, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
Abstract. Conferences, meetings and congresses are an important part of today's economic and scientific world. But the environmental impact, especially from greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel, can be extensive. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions account for the warming of the atmosphere and oceans. This study draws on the need to quantify and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel activities and aims to give suggestions for organizers and participants on possible ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, demonstrated on the example of the European Geography Association (EGEA) Annual Congress 2013 in Wasilkow, Poland.
The lack of a comprehensive methodology for the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions from travel led to an outline of a methodology that uses geographic information systems (GIS) to calculate travel distances. The calculation of travel distances in GIS is adapted from actual transportation infrastructure, derived from the open-source platform OpenStreetMap. The methodology also aims to assess the possibilities to reduce GHG emissions by choosing different means of transportation and a more central conference location.
The results of the participants of the EGEA congress, who shared their travel data for this study, show that the total travel distance adds up to 238 000 km, with average travel distance of 2429 km per participant. The travel activities of the participants in the study result in total GHG emissions of 39 300 kg CO2-eq including both outward and return trip. On average a participant caused GHG emissions of 401 kg CO2-eq. In addition, the analysis of the travel data showed differences in travel behaviour depending on the distance between conference site and point of origin. The findings on travel behaviour have then been used to give an estimation of total greenhouse gas emissions from travel for all participants of the conference, which result in a total amount of 79 711 kg CO2-eq.
The potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by substituting short flights with train rides and car rides with bus and train rides is limited. Only 6 % of greenhouse gas emissions could be saved by applying these measures. Further considerable savings could only be made by substituting longer flights (32.6 %) or choosing a more central conference location (26.3 %).