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Swedes' flight habits carry heavy climate burden

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Swedes' flight habits carry heavy climate burden
A Norwegian plane leaves Arlanda Airport. File photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
16:01 CET+01:00
The idea of hopping on a plane and escaping to a warmer locale is incredibly appealing to most people in Sweden, particularly at this time of year.
But a new study from Chalmers University of Technology helps reveal the environmental impact of Swedes' flying habits, and the figures may just make Swedes rethink their winter jaunt to Thailand. 
 
According to the report, which was commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Sweden's aviation emissions are five times higher than the global average. A full 80 percent of those emissions are the result of private trips. 
 
Air travel accounts for around four to five percent of global emissions. As a small country, Sweden is only estimated to account for around one percent of that total. While that might not sound like much in the big picture, the report shows that Swedes' travel habits have an impact much larger than the country's size. 
 
Sweden's total aviation sector accounted for 1.1 tonnes of emissions per person in 2017, a full five times higher than the global average of 0.2 tonnes per person. While it stands to reason that the inhabitants of a wealthy country like Sweden would fly more than the average global citizen, even among Swedes there is a large discrepancy in flight habits and the emissions that come with them. 
 
"Swedes fly on average the approximate distance of Stockholm to Madrid each year. However, the consumption of air travel is uneven within the population. A previous report has shown that 20 percent of the population accounts for half of the emissions," Jörgen Larsson, who researches the environmental impact of air travel at Chalmers and co-wrote the report, told news agency TT. 
 
Larsson stressed that even though Swedes' contributions to the world's flight emissions may be small, it is still vital that Swedes think about the carbon footprint of their travel habits. 
 
"According to the UN climate panel IPCC, emissions must begin declining now and cease completely within a few decades. This applies to all countries and all sectors," he said. "All reductions are equally important. There is a widespread belief that just because [Sweden's] emissions are only a certain proportion of the world total, they aren't as important. That is illogical."
 
But getting Swedes to cut back on their air travel looks like an uphill battle. The Chalmers report showed that Swedes' flight emissions have increased by 47 percent since 1990 and totalled 10 million tonnes in 2017. 
 
The Chalmers report showed that Swedes account for 10 million tonnes of flight emissions per year and that their per person contribution is five times higher than the global average. Image:TT
 
In response to the report, Climate Minister Isabella Lövin said Swedes simply "cannot continue to increase flying to the extent that we see now".
 
"Even if we replaced all aviation fuel with renewables, we would still see increased emissions due to high-altitude effects and the fact that even biofuels affect the climate," she told TT. 
 
Lövin said there needs to be a concerted effort to make other forms of transportation more appealing. 
 
"This shows that we need to build more railways and ensure that we have fast trains that can replace a lot of the air traffic," she said. "We need to have a long-term perspective on high-speed railways and create a European rail network. It is vitally important."
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