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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). Although most countries agreed to limit the temperature increase to 2°C in the landmark 2015 Paris agreement, the opposing political and economic forces may be stronger (Bodansky, 2016).

Changing temperature and precipitation patterns will affect most human social and economic activities (mobility, trade, tourism, etc.), 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). Proximate causes will include extreme weather events (posing serious risks to humans, ecosystems and endangered species), rising seas, salination of agricultural soils, more frequent or intense heat waves (wet-bulb temperatures approaching body temperature), longer droughts, deglaciation affecting water supplies, expanding deserts, forest dieback, more frequent or unprecedented forest fires or flooding, ocean acidification, and accelerated loss of biodiversity (species extinction) on both land and sea. Developments of this kind can also interact catastrophically with each other (e.g., ecological cascade effects), and climate forcing mechanisms can self-reinforce (positive climate change feedback), leading to "runaway" warming. 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. 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 may consider reducing the number of take-offs, replacing part of their journey with surface transport, or combining the trip with a holiday to reduce average daily emissions. Another option is to consider yearly personal emissions and reduce the total in other ways. Working on a laptop is easier on a train than a plane, and night trains can be convenient. Time and money can be saved by avoiding trips to and from airports, early check-ins, security checks, and baggage carousels. Sometimes both conference and holiday travel can be included in the same discount train or bus pass. Options of this kind are entirely voluntary and 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. 


    Bodansky, D. (2016). The Paris climate change agreement: a new hope? American Journal of International Law, 110(2), 288-319.

    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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