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Climate change

The global mean temperature in 2016 was 1.1°C above the pre-industrial level, breaking the previous record from 2015 (World Meteorological Organisation, 2017). Every increase in global mean temperature increases the probability of extreme weather events that pose serious risks to humans, ecosystems and endangered species. Changing temperature and precipitation patterns affect most human social and economic activities (mobility, trade, tourism, etc.), eventually triggering regional conflicts, (forced) migration and increased mortality rates, especially for social classes that are less able to adapt for financial or health reasons (Field et al, 2014; Zhengelis, 2015). Long-term extrapolations and order-of-magnitude estimates suggest that the past, present and future emissions of a billion people in richer countries will eventually cause the premature deaths of a billion future people in poorer countries (Nolt, 2011).

Aviation is responsible for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, but other greenhouse gases and additional factors such the elevation at which emissions occur and the different atmospheric lifetimes of GHGs in the atmosphere mean that aviation is contributing about 5% to global warming. When all GHGs and their different effects are considered, the contribution of one economy-class seat on a long-haul intercontinental return flight is comparable with driving a car to and from work for a whole year (calculate flight emissions here). Both cases are equivalent to burning roughly one tonne of carbon or emitting roughly 3.7 tonnes of CO2.

Academic research activities are contributing to global warming in several ways, of which flying may be the most important. The easiest and most effective way for "frequent flyers" to significantly and immediately reduce their individual carbon footprints is to reduce the distance flown per year or avoid flying altogether. The other main options are eating less meat, driving less, and having fewer children (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017).


Coroama, Hilty and Birtel (2012) estimated that a multi-hub, semi-virtual conference could reduce travel-related greenhouse gas emissions by 37% to 50% relative to an equivalent single-location conference. At ICMPC15/ESCOM10 we aim to halve carbon emissions per participant relative to previous conferences. Additional advantages of ICMPC15's multi-location format are:

Travel costs will be reduced for the average participant.

  • Inclusion in the program will depend more on academic quality and less on financial resources.
  • The number of participants will increase, as will their cultural diversity. Opportunities for meeting possible future collaborators with specific backgrounds, skills or motivations will improve.
  • Passive or active participation will become easier for colleagues with reduced mobility.
  • The conference will be more global in character.

Participants are asked to travel to the nearest hub and avoid or reduce flying if reasonably possible. Participants who do fly are asked to consider combining the trip with a holiday or to reduce their yearly emissions in other ways. Options of this kind are entirely private and voluntary; they play no role in abstract review or program construction. 

This text was written by Richard Parncutt in collaboration with Jakob Mayer, Wegener Centre for Climate and Global Change, Graz. Feedback is welcome. The issues will be discussed in a special conference session. ICMPC15/ESCOM10 supports the academic Flying Less initiative. 


Coroama, V.C., Hilty, L.M., Birtel, M. 2012. Effects of Internet-based multiple-site conferences on greenhouse gas emissions. Telematics and Informatics, 29, 4, 362-374.

Field, C.B. et al. (Eds.) (2014). IPCC Summary for policymakers. In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects (pp. 1-32). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nolt, J. (2011). How harmful are the average American's greenhouse gas emissions? Ethics, Policy and Environment, 14(1), 3-10. full text

Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: Education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters, 12(7), 074024. full text

World Meteorological Organization (2017). Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts. [25.03.2017].

Zenghelis, D. (2015). Decarbonisation: Innovation and the economics of climate change. Political Quarterly, 86, 172–190. 

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Zentrum für Systematische Musikwissenschaft
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