It's best not to fly to conferences
Several times a year, researchers from all over the world travel long distances in order to share their latest findings and establish contacts at conferences. Dr. Sebastian Jäckle from the Department of Political Science at the University of Freiburg advocates a more conscious approach to such research trips. The political scientist examined the travel-related CO2 emissions of the last six conferences from the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR). In addition to calculating the travel-related CO2 emissions of the conference participants, Jäckle is also investigating how emissions can be reduced. The study was published in the journal European Political Science.
According to Jäckle's calculations, the average CO2 balance of a conference visitor ranges from 0.5 to 1.5 tons of CO2 equivalents per three-day ECPR meeting. In comparison, every German emits a total of about 11 tons of CO2 equivalents per year; according to the current report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, every human being worldwide is likely to emit only 2.5 tons of CO2 equivalents per year in 2030, meaning that the 1.5 degree target of climate protection is still achievable.
In order to determine the total emissions of the conferences, Jäckle took into account the distances travelled by the participants and the CO2 emissions per kilometer for air, bus and rail transport. Travelling by plane is by far the worst option, whereas there is not much difference in CO2 emissions between bus and train. Jäckle's data also show that a significant proportion of the issues are attributable to a small number of conference topics that travel very long distances: Seven percent of the participants at the conference in Hamburg, Germany in 2018 caused more than half of the total CO2 emissions.
Nevertheless, Jäckle shows in his work that there is a large savings potential. By choosing central conference venues with good rail connections and by connecting participants through video transmission, especially for those from distant regions, the CO2 footprint of conferences could be significantly reduced. "If researchers would then accept somewhat longer travel times by bus or train compared to air travel, up to 85 percent of a conference's emissions could be saved," says Jäckle. "Such savings are only possible, however, if both the professional associations hosting the conferences and individual researchers are aware of the problem and actively strive to make the conference as climate-neutral as possible."