Climate Change Mitigation Needs more than Technological Fixes: Examples from Aviation and Shipping

Even though globally, flying remains a very privileged practice (only 3% of world’s population fly internationally in any given year) it adds over 3% to global carbon emissions. Shipping is just under 3% and both are rising rapidly. They are significant contributors to the problem of climate change. Long-haul flying is one of the most carbon heavy acts that a person can do. One return flight between Australia and Europe has the equivalent of 4.5 tonnes of CO2. That is equal to average global per capita emissions per year. It is the reason why past estimates attribute as much as 47% of the EU15’s carbon emissions from aviation to just 6% of the trips and 43% of France’s aviation emissions to 2% (1). Cruising typically requires even more energy than long-haul flying (2, 3). Also while many cruise products on offer draw people to Europe, plenty of other products are to destinations beyond Europe such as to the Caribbean, Australia or Dubai, and indeed some of the products themselves incorporate long-haul flights.

However, as with dealing with climate change in general, a purely technological deus-ex-machina fix is not going to be the answer. A look at the aviation and leisure cruise industries will give you some sign of the flaws in going solely down that path. “Boeing’s order book” already contains orders for the 747 (first made in 1968) which ensure that more will be built and sold up to year 2030 at least. Similarly cruise ships, with an approximate lifespan of 30 years (4), have just undergone a record order year that will add a combined berth capacity equivalent to 25% of the current global fleet (5). With the supposed biofuel solution for aviation and shipping fuel already causing more problems than it solves future carbon-heavy supply is therefore already set in motion.

Clearly dealing with the social components of demand is an essential part of any realistic response. For example Ceron and Dubois (2005)(6) list multiple broad social factors that are influencing international leisure travel demand: “economic growth and inequalities, demography (including family patterns), conditions of travel (safety…),… tourism and leisure supply (how far will liberalisation go and the market sector penetrate the activity), marketing strategies, … the way society values amenities linked to tourism (sunshine, sport, etc.) and of course two fundamental variables: time resources and disposable income.” Many of these are going to have to be addressed by Governments and organizations seeking to lower emissions in this sector.

Some serious changes are going to have to be made to aviation and shipping taxes and subsidies. For example flying is exempt from VAT in the UK and amazingly no tax is charged anywhere in the world on fuel for passenger jets or on shipping. These added costs would be more punitive towards long-haul due to a higher ticket price. Additionally the aviation industry receives massive subsidies from Governments – £600 million for Ryanair alone between 2008 and 2010 – largely to encourage them to start new routes.

None of this of course is helped by the UNFCCC excluding international shipping and flights from national inventories and that the recent Paris agreement fails to mention either of them. In addition the EU has only focused on intra-European flights and carbon-neutral growth – as opposed to reduction – from 2020.



  1. HALL, C. M., GOSSLING, S., PROFESSOR, HEAD OF THE CENTRE FOR TOURISM C MICHAEL HALL, P. & SCOTT, D. 2015. The Routledge Handbook of Tourism and Sustainability, Taylor & Francis.
  2. HOWITT, O. R., V. SMITH, I. J. RODGER, C. J 2010. Carbon emissions from international cruise ship passengers travel to and from New Zealand Energy Policy, 38, 2552-2560.
  3. WALNUM, H. J. 2011. Energy use and CO2 emissions from cruise ships — A discussion of methodological issues. Western Norway Research Institute: Vestlandsforsking.
  4. WARD, D. 2015. Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2016, APA.
  5. CLARKSONS. 2015. Cruise Orders full of Eastern Promises? Clarksons Research [Online]. Available: [Accessed 09/11/2015].
  6. CERON, J.-P. & DUBOIS, G. 2005. More mobility means more impact on climate change: prospects for household leisure mobility in France. Belgeo, 1-2 103-120.
  7. UNFCCC. 2013. Emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport (international bunker fuels) [Online]. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Available: [Accessed 23/03 2013].




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