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University of Basel

Air Travel - "less for more"

Airliner and modern train on abstract background. (Image: Mascha Tace/Shutterstock)
(Image: Mascha Tace/Shutterstock)

Climate protection is a key area for the University of Basel, which has enshrined sustainability in its Strategy 2022–2030 and its mission statement. Air travel is responsible for a large proportion of the University of Basel’s total greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore a significant target area for the reduction of CO2 emissions.


 

Prof. Dr. Jens Gaab, Associated Vice President for Diversity and Sustainability

The University of Basel is committed to sustainability and has already incorporated it into its objectives as an educational and research institution. Given that air travel is responsible for a large proportion of all the university’s greenhouse gas emissions, it’s vital that we now use our skills to deliver on our commitments and achieve a discernible reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Prof. Dr. Jens Gaab, Associated Vice President for Diversity and Sustainability

 


Selected figures

Long-haul flights in 2022 accounted for about 40% of air travel, but were responsible for more than 80% of CO2 emissions. Reasons: greater distances, higher altitudes and a greater fuel load.

Climate fund

A steering tax on flight emissions will be introduced for the President's Office departments and central administration. The resulting revenues will be allocated to a central fund and will be used for activities related to the climate strategy. The newly established Sustainability Committee will draw up proposals for the use of the levy in the fall of 2023. The decentralized units can participate in the steering tax on a voluntary basis.


 

Supporting tools

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A short summary of the key facts on air travel.

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Is flying really necessary and what are the alternatives? The Decision Tree Mobility will help you with this decision and resolve other questions.

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This list covers destinations that can be reached in 4, 6, 8 hours or 1.000 km by train from Basel.

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Use this calculator to estimate the carbon footprint of your flight.

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The AV-media set is used for virtual and hybrid events in which people can participate both personally and virtually.

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Travelling to Milano, Paris & Co: By train or by plane? Comparison of travel times and emissions of CO₂. The map was developed by ETH Zurich in cooperation with routerank.com

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This website allows you to compare the emissions of CO2 and airborne pollutants for journeys by plane, car and train.

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With the railtour.ch booking tool you can easily book train and hotel in combination for the desired destination.

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For group tickets, please contact the SBB Group Travel Competence Center:

FAQ

  • 1. How does flying affect the climate?

    Burning jet fuel causes the release of various gases that affect the climate and contribute to global warming. As well as CO2, it produces other emissions consisting of H2O, NOx and SOx, which are particularly critical if they are released at an altitude of more than 9,000 meters. This makes planes one of the most environmentally harmful means of transport per kilometer traveled. The exact climate impact of a kilometer traveled by plane depends on the aircraft’s capacity utilization, age and type, among other things.

    Burning jet fuel causes the release of various gases that affect the climate and contribute to global warming. As well as CO2, it produces other emissions consisting of H2O, NOx and SOx, which are particularly critical if they are released at an altitude of more than 9,000 meters. This makes planes one of the most environmentally harmful means of transport per kilometer traveled. The exact climate impact of a kilometer traveled by plane depends on the aircraft’s capacity utilization, age and type, among other things.

  • 2. What is the impact of Switzerland’s air traffic on the climate?

    Global air traffic has risen significantly in recent years.[1] In countries with a high per capita income, people take disproportionately more flights. In Switzerland, air travel accounts for at least 18% of the country’s entire climate impact, and in 2018 produced approximately 11.57 million metric tonnes CO2eq.[2] The exact value is highly dependent on what is known as the radiative forcing index (RFI), which is used to describe the stronger effect of non-CO2 emissions at an altitude of more than 9,000 meters.


    [1] Larsson et al. (2018). "Measuring greenhouse gas emissions from international air travel of a country’s residents methodological development and application for Sweden." www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195925517303116

     [2] umverkehR (2020). flugfacts.ch/

    Global air traffic has risen significantly in recent years.[1] In countries with a high per capita income, people take disproportionately more flights. In Switzerland, air travel accounts for at least 18% of the country’s entire climate impact, and in 2018 produced approximately 11.57 million metric tonnes CO2eq.[2] The exact value is highly dependent on what is known as the radiative forcing index (RFI), which is used to describe the stronger effect of non-CO2 emissions at an altitude of more than 9,000 meters.


    [1] Larsson et al. (2018). "Measuring greenhouse gas emissions from international air travel of a country’s residents methodological development and application for Sweden." www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195925517303116

     [2] umverkehR (2020). flugfacts.ch/

  • 3. Why should the University of Basel change its flying habits?

    In 2022 air travel was responsible for 30% of the recorded greenhouse gas emissions of the University of Basel (energy: 62%; catering: 7%). In 2019, the university emitted 3,362 metric tonnes CO2eq into the atmosphere due to air travel alone. On average, that corresponds to 1.1 metric tonnes CO2-eq per full-time employee. After the pandemic-related decline in flights in 2020 and 2021, air travel increased significantly in 2022. In order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, the total per capita emissions for all areas of life (energy, consumption and nutrition, as well as transportation) should be no more than 600 kg CO2eq per person.[3] In addition, the impact of a reduction in air travel goes beyond the direct reduction of climate damage, as the university can demonstrate that excellence in research and teaching can be reconciled with sustainable travel habits.


    [3] Bundesamt für Umwelt (2020): https://www.bafu.admin.ch/bafu/de/home/themen/klima/inkuerze.html

    In 2022 air travel was responsible for 30% of the recorded greenhouse gas emissions of the University of Basel (energy: 62%; catering: 7%). In 2019, the university emitted 3,362 metric tonnes CO2eq into the atmosphere due to air travel alone. On average, that corresponds to 1.1 metric tonnes CO2-eq per full-time employee. After the pandemic-related decline in flights in 2020 and 2021, air travel increased significantly in 2022. In order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, the total per capita emissions for all areas of life (energy, consumption and nutrition, as well as transportation) should be no more than 600 kg CO2eq per person.[3] In addition, the impact of a reduction in air travel goes beyond the direct reduction of climate damage, as the university can demonstrate that excellence in research and teaching can be reconciled with sustainable travel habits.


    [3] Bundesamt für Umwelt (2020): https://www.bafu.admin.ch/bafu/de/home/themen/klima/inkuerze.html

  • 4. When should the target of a 30% reduction relative to the 2017–2019 baseline be met?

    The aim is to achieve the target reduction as quickly as possible after the package of measures is introduced by the university units. Annual monitoring of flight-related emissions will allow the effectiveness of the measures to be reviewed and, if necessary, further adjustments to be made in order to achieve the reduction target.

    The aim is to achieve the target reduction as quickly as possible after the package of measures is introduced by the university units. Annual monitoring of flight-related emissions will allow the effectiveness of the measures to be reviewed and, if necessary, further adjustments to be made in order to achieve the reduction target.

  • 5. How was the reduction target defined?

    Professor Jens Gaab (Associated Vice President for Diversity and Sustainability) and the Sustainability Office prepared a proposal based on the greenhouse gas balance for 2017–2019. The reduction target was adopted by the President’s Board and discussed with the deans at the President’s Conference. In September 2020, the Senate of the University of Basel discussed and approved the reduction target. The target is similar to those set by other higher education and public institutions (e.g. ETH Zurich, federal administration).

    Professor Jens Gaab (Associated Vice President for Diversity and Sustainability) and the Sustainability Office prepared a proposal based on the greenhouse gas balance for 2017–2019. The reduction target was adopted by the President’s Board and discussed with the deans at the President’s Conference. In September 2020, the Senate of the University of Basel discussed and approved the reduction target. The target is similar to those set by other higher education and public institutions (e.g. ETH Zurich, federal administration).

  • 6. How is the flight data collected?

    The flight data for 2017 to 2022 was collected retroactively based on accounting documents and includes all flights taken by staff, students and guests, provided that the costs were covered by the University of Basel. For example, if a professor is invited to an external conference and the flight is paid for by the conference, this does not appear in the University of Basel’s greenhouse gas balance. Similarly, most student excursions are not reflected in the data for expenses claims, as the students generally book and pay for the excursions themselves. The boundaries chosen for this system are coordinated with other Swiss universities.

    The flight data for 2017 to 2022 was collected retroactively based on accounting documents and includes all flights taken by staff, students and guests, provided that the costs were covered by the University of Basel. For example, if a professor is invited to an external conference and the flight is paid for by the conference, this does not appear in the University of Basel’s greenhouse gas balance. Similarly, most student excursions are not reflected in the data for expenses claims, as the students generally book and pay for the excursions themselves. The boundaries chosen for this system are coordinated with other Swiss universities.

  • 7. How can we effectively reduce emissions due to air travel?

    Proven alternatives to flying already exist; for example, train travel reduces emissions of CO2eq by up to 90% for the same distance traveled – and it is easier to put the time spent traveling by train to productive use. Virtual meetings allow travel to be dispensed with altogether, in particular for collaborations and smaller meetings. This technology increases the availability of all participants, the productivity of all meetings (by dispensing with travel time), and the frequency with which discussions can take place (by reducing the cost of meetings). A selection of measures is presented at the "less for more" website.

    Proven alternatives to flying already exist; for example, train travel reduces emissions of CO2eq by up to 90% for the same distance traveled – and it is easier to put the time spent traveling by train to productive use. Virtual meetings allow travel to be dispensed with altogether, in particular for collaborations and smaller meetings. This technology increases the availability of all participants, the productivity of all meetings (by dispensing with travel time), and the frequency with which discussions can take place (by reducing the cost of meetings). A selection of measures is presented at the "less for more" website.

  • 8. As a result of COVID-19, air travel has come almost to a standstill. Has the reduction target now been met?

    The extraordinary situation caused by the coronavirus crisis has indeed pushed the University of Basel’s emissions due to air travel down to almost zero. Now, it is important to further strengthen the virtual collaboration skills gained and to redouble our efforts to switch from planes to trains. When the number of people traveling rises again after the pandemic, it is important that we continue to meet the reduction target.

    The extraordinary situation caused by the coronavirus crisis has indeed pushed the University of Basel’s emissions due to air travel down to almost zero. Now, it is important to further strengthen the virtual collaboration skills gained and to redouble our efforts to switch from planes to trains. When the number of people traveling rises again after the pandemic, it is important that we continue to meet the reduction target.

  • 9. Is international air travel not an essential part of international research?

    Field research in South Africa, an academic conference in Japan, or a physical experiment in California – sometimes, there is no real alternative to plane travel. An academic institution cannot therefore dispense with air travel altogether. Rather than seeking to ban anything, the new air travel project “less for more” aims to prompt people to reflect on their travel habits. Is flying to Paris really necessary, or can I take the train instead and work more comfortably and efficiently while I travel? Academics can demonstrate that they base their behavior on scientific insights. Moreover, initial studies have shown that academic air travel has no impact on academic success. [4]


    [4] Wynes et al. (2019). "Academic air travel has a limited influence on professional success" https://bit.ly/2CJIdKC

    Field research in South Africa, an academic conference in Japan, or a physical experiment in California – sometimes, there is no real alternative to plane travel. An academic institution cannot therefore dispense with air travel altogether. Rather than seeking to ban anything, the new air travel project “less for more” aims to prompt people to reflect on their travel habits. Is flying to Paris really necessary, or can I take the train instead and work more comfortably and efficiently while I travel? Academics can demonstrate that they base their behavior on scientific insights. Moreover, initial studies have shown that academic air travel has no impact on academic success. [4]


    [4] Wynes et al. (2019). "Academic air travel has a limited influence on professional success" https://bit.ly/2CJIdKC

  • 10. Why can’t we simply offset our emissions due to air travel?

    Emissions reductions should be based on an effective reduction in air travel – in other words, they should not include carbon offset measures. The offsetting of flight-related emissions should be a complementary measure, as it does not lead to the necessary reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. If we theoretically tried to reduce the emissions of industrial nations solely through offset measures, it would not be possible to reduce global emissions to the necessary extent by 2050 or to meet the two-degree target adopted as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015. [5]


    [5] Gössling et al. (2007). "Voluntary Carbon Offsetting Schemes for Aviation: Efficiency, Credibility and Sustainable Tourism." https://bit.ly/2YArl1n

    Emissions reductions should be based on an effective reduction in air travel – in other words, they should not include carbon offset measures. The offsetting of flight-related emissions should be a complementary measure, as it does not lead to the necessary reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. If we theoretically tried to reduce the emissions of industrial nations solely through offset measures, it would not be possible to reduce global emissions to the necessary extent by 2050 or to meet the two-degree target adopted as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015. [5]


    [5] Gössling et al. (2007). "Voluntary Carbon Offsetting Schemes for Aviation: Efficiency, Credibility and Sustainable Tourism." https://bit.ly/2YArl1n

Contact
  • Dr. Carina Weingaertner

    Mobility, waste management, procurement, sustainability reporting

    Carina Weingaertner
    University of Basel Sustainability Office Petersgraben 35, Postfach
    4001 Basel
    Switzerland
    Tel. +41 61 207 65 51
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