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Frequent fliers destroy the environment

The study says Swiss air travel accounts for six million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year Keystone

The environmental impact of flying is greatly underestimated, according to a new study by the Swiss National Science Foundation. It says 13 per cent of Switzerland's total emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by Swiss residents travelling by plane.

This content was published on September 22, 2000 - 16:55

The report, which was unveiled on Friday in Basel, warns that in 20 years' time, air traffic will account for about a third of Switzerland's total emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for global warming.

The study differs from previous ones in that it is based on the total number of kilometres flown worldwide every year by Swiss residents, rather than the number of kilometres flown in Swiss air space.

"Switzerland is a small country, which means that the CO2 impact of air traffic caused by the Swiss was really underestimated," explained Walter Ott, one of the authors.

"What Swiss people fly in Switzerland is not really relevant. It's the total distance they fly which counts."

With this new methodology, the study found that the Swiss travel an average of 4,500 kilometres per year by air, accounting for carbon dioxide emissions of more than 6 million tonnes. That is about 13 per cent of Switzerland's total emissions of 50 million tonnes.

The study warns that developments in air transport are "diametrically opposed" to the goals of international and Swiss climate policies.

Walter Ott hopes the study will lead to a revision of the way CO2 statistics are compiled in Switzerland. But even if Switzerland were to take the changes on board, it would not have any implications for its international commitments to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, unless the method was adopted internationally.

"Most of these emissions are not allocated to countries right now, because a considerable proportion of flights are over the oceans. So far the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has not allocated these emissions to the countries or passengers which provoke them," he said.

The Swiss study also warns that the environmental impact of air travel is greater than just the CO2 emissions. Flying is responsible for the emission of a cocktail of gases whose combined effects on the ozone layer and the formation of clouds are several times more detrimental than if they were acting alone.

by Malcolm Shearmur and Vincent Landon

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