Two authors of the Paris Climate Agreement share their tips for how travelers can reduce—and even eliminate—their negative impact on the environment.
It’s no secret that there are some unintended consequences when we travel, especially on the environment.
“While climate change is caused by various factors, human behavior is at the heart of it,” say Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, authors of The Future We Choose, a new book that distills the complexities of climate change, recommending “ten steps that everyone should take individually and collectively to play their part in ensuring humanity can survive the climate crisis.”
Figueres was the public face of the Paris Climate Agreement, the most sweeping political agreement on climate change to date, as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010-2016. Rivett-Carnac was her political strategist at the time. Together they co-foundered Global Optimism, an organization focused on creating environmental and social change.
“Travel is undoubtedly a major contributor to climate change,” Figueres and Rivett-Carnac add. “Tourism accounts for 8% of global emissions, taking into account travel, souvenirs, food consumption and so on.”
Fortunately several key travel industry players are finally taking note—at least when it comes to reducing waste.
In 2019, some of the world’s largest airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and Dubai International, pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2020. In 2018, Ryanair—the largest airline group in Europe—pledged to go plastic-free by 2023. Air carriers like Delta and Scandinavian Airlines are beginning to require travelers to pre-order meals in an effort to reduce both food and plastic waste on board.
Unfortunately, if you’re not traveling through an environmentally-minded airport or airline, you’re on your own, and when it comes to carbon emissions, responsibility has also been largely left to the consumer. According to Figueres and Rivett-Carnac, around 2.4% of global emissions come from airplane engines, and a single cruise ship can emit as much pollution as 700 cars and as much pollution as a million cars.
So what’s a traveler to do?
“There is frankly no excuse for anyone to not be carbon neutral now,” says Figueres and Rivett-Carnac. “We recommend changing your travel habits as one of the important steps you can take to remedy your impact on the climate.”
Below, the climate activists share what travelers can do now to travel more sustainably. For further insight, their book guides readers through the actions needed to take today, this week, this month, this year, and over the next 30 years to combat climate change more broadly.
When possible, and especially when traveling locally, “walk, bike, or carpool, or switch to an electric car in areas where electricity is already clean,” Figueres and Rivett-Carnac suggest. Trains are also a better alternative, as they “have far fewer emissions per passenger than airplanes.”
Take Business Meetings Online
“For long-haul and business travelers, with advancing IT possibilities, we can start to cut down on the amount of long distance travel to meetings,” Figueres and Rivett-Carnac said. When possible, encourage your employer to prioritize remote meetings and workflows to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
Compensate for Emissions
If you absolutely must travel a long distance, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac agree that it’s imperative to offset the emissions caused by your travel. You can use a carbon footprint calculator like Compensate.com or MyClimate.Org to figure out what is needed to compensate your emissions.
It’s of course a financial privilege to be able to retroactively offset your carbon emissions, which makes it all the more prudent to consider what travel is and isn’t essential in this phase of the climate crisis.
“Some of the best clean travel tips are the smallest—you might even be doing them already,” say Figueres and Rivett-Carnac. “For example, carry a reusable water bottle and utensils. You can also pack your own (much healthier) meals for your trip and avoid the excess plastic and packaging that comes in most fast food or airplane meals.”
Encourage Your Fellow Travelers to Travel Sustainably
“The more people working towards a cleaner planet, the better,” suggest Figueres and Rivett-Carnac. It’s important to spread the word about climate change and how you can reduce your impact on the environment. The very least you can do is encourage the people close to you to follow suit—and hopefully you can lead by example, too.