At the end of 2018, I was lucky enough to have a Europeaid project in Anguilla to work on the country's education system. In fact, over the Winter period 4 trips were planned each, for my colleague and I. We had struck gold...a work trip in the Caribbean over the Winter period!
We both had to take flights with stop overs in Amsterdam.
In the throng of St Martin's makeshift airport (a temporary structure after Hurricane Irma had blown away the last one in September 2017), waiting to catch a speedboat to finally arrive in Anguilla, we sat down and enjoyed a couple of cold SXM beers in the blazing Caribbean sun. This was the first time we had met after all, but luckily it was clear from beer one that my colleague for my project was going to be a goodun.
Once the powerboat had weaved us through sunken yachts and debris (some boats had actually been blown onto the runway we had just landed on in the 300kmh winds of the hurricane), its 3 or 4 300 HP motors opened up and skipped bumpily over crystal blue waters. Before the din of the engines became too loud to hear anything, my colleague in a rare moment of seriousness casually noted that each of the flights for our project would emit huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere..In fact, we had 4 flights each, so between us, at just over 2 tonnes per return flight each that makes 16 tonnes of CO2.
As it turned out those 4 flights were reduced to 3 each as we merged two of the missions. I'd like to claim that was all to do with my own purposeful planning of the project, but in reality our senior Government counterparts themselves were spending so much time flying to conferences in the Caribbean that we had no choice but merge the missions together before our project would hit its deadline.
These conferences were presumably to coordinate education in the region. This was of interest to us, of course, as their consultants mandated to support their strategic planning, budgeting, and support their resource mobilisation. What was the agenda of these conferences? No information was provided. Quite likely, whichever exchange of views was needed could also be substantiated online in any case?
More recently, a friend of mine posted on social media that he was to fly from Bangkok to Uganda for a conference on South South cooperation with FAO, a UN Agency. He was sceptical to say the least about the usefulness of such a "talking shop". Presumably, every man and her dog went. Apart from being a questionable use of aid money, it would just burn a giant hole in the ozone layer...
The greatest irony perhaps is hundreds and thousands jetting off to climate change conferences. If those movers and shakers who actually have decision-making powers make climate-saving decisions at those conferences, then all well and good - but there do seem to be swathes of people going to "represent" numerous organisations. Each year too, the UN itself holds the UN Games, where thousands of employees congregate to play sports. In 2020, we are told, the focus is sustainability. One wonders how?
Aviation faces zero tax on fuel and has been held artificially cheap for decades. Hence, we fly a lot more than we should. Not only the flying of course, but travel itself is guilty of a massive disposable culture. Aviation has an enormous CO2 footprint as well as other gases. And we know that a lot of air travel is rather pointless, and could easily be substituted. Employers or clients often demand travel without considering alternatives.
Some travel will always be essential; but it seems that a lot is simply gratuitous. In Barcelona, the Mobile World Congress was just cancelled because of the coronavirus. 100,000 people were expected to attend from 200 countries! So cancelling that may have at least saved 0.5mn tonnes of CO2!
And this is before we even get started on vacation trips. We all love a holiday, but until now few of us have thought about the CO2 cost before booking flights.
So whether it is for work or travel, the question is this: are there some times when you feel you should just #staygrounded?