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Transport is responsible for the largest environmental impact of a holiday package. Environmental impact of transport Motorised holiday transport is mostly based on fossil fuels. Airplanes use kerosene, and cars and coaches run on petrol, gasoline or gas. Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change by the emission of carbon dioxide and other so called “greenhouse gases” like methane. In addition to greenhouse gasses, fossil fuel also leads to air pollution through the emission of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulphur dioxide (SOx), and very small particles (Particulate Matter). Moreover, the availability of fossil fuels is limited.
The energy consumption of aircrafts is relatively high. The CO2 emission of planes is not the only impact on climate change. Partly due to the height of flying ‘contrails’ (condensation trails) are formed and various chemical reactions emerge, contributing to climate change.
Some important elements affecting airplane emissions are:
Type of airplane
Modern airplanes consume less energy and also emit less damaging substances than older models. Smaller jets consume relatively more energy per passenger-mile.
Logically, short-haul flights have less CO2 emission and pollution than long-haul flights. Nevertheless, per passenger km they reach the opposite effect! The reason for this is that emissions are highest during take-off and landing, and because short flights often are not able to follow the shortest route to reach their destination.
Since on short-haul flights often stopovers are made, emissions increase. Contrary to this, on intercontinental flights (> 6.000 km) refuelling stopovers result in a lower emission per passenger mile since the aircraft flies with less fuel, has a lower weight and therefore consumes less energy.
Cars still are the most popular vehicles to reach the holiday destination. Over the past few years the air polluting emissions have been reduced with the introduction of unleaded petrol, catalyzer and diesel particulate filter (DPF). When a diesel powered vehicle is equipped with a DPF the emission of small particles is reduced by 99%. Nevertheless, the emission of CO2 remains a problem as they are directly related to the combustion of fossil fuels.
The main influences on the emission of cars are the following:
The longer the distance, the higher the emission of pollutants and CO2.
Type of road
On motorways fuel consumption and air pollution is relatively lower than on secondary roads. Therefore, also CO2 emission and noise hindrance is less.
Older cars emit much more polluting fumes than newer types due to stricter rules on emission and because they generally use less fuel.
A calm style of driving also referred to as ‘Eco-driving’ results in approx. 10% less energy consumption, thus lower emission of CO2 and pollutants.
The use of car accessories like roof- and cycle racks or a caravan of camper, increases the fuel consumption by 20% to 50% due to a higher air resistance.
The more people in a car the lower the emission per person. As the extra weight of a passenger has a minimal effect on fuel consumption, doubling the number of passengers nearly halves the emission per person.
Trains provide suitable transport to nearby and far destinations. Most trains run on electricity. Producing the electricity has a negative effect on the natural environment, but trains are energy efficient and don’t produce any pollutants or CO2, with the exception of powder dust from friction.
For longer distances the ordinary international train is often replaced by the high speed alternative. Energy consumption depends on the distance travelled, the type of train and the speed it averages. Because of the higher speed the high speed trains consume double the electricity per passenger-mile than normal international trains. Nevertheless this is compensated by their occupancy rate which is also twice as high as in normal trains.
Up to approx. 1000 – 1500 km the (high speed) train is a good alternative to air travel, especially when travelling from city center to city center. When comparing the total travelling time from ´door-to-door´, travelling by train is often less time-consuming and less expensive than travelling by aircraft. Checking in takes less time and even on longer distances the travelling time by train can equal the time needed to arrive there by flight.
Fuel consumption and polluting emissions of coaches mostly depend on the speed and the type of engine. Fuel consumption per passenger mile is always lower than cars or planes and sometimes even lower than trains. In general diesel engines are rather polluting. Most coaches used for international travel are only a few years old and comply with current emission standards. Emissions per passenger mile also depend on occupancy rates. Occupancy rates of regular buses vary widely, whereas shuttle buses have overall high occupancy rates.
Coaches used for excursions generally have a high fuel consumption often caused by the air conditioning inside. While the tourists are visiting the attraction, often the driver keeps the engine running in order to preserve a pleasant temperature inside. Energy could be saved by turning on the air-conditioning only 10 minutes before the passengers return (based on fixed time schedule or mobile phone message). Also passengers can be explained that for environmental reasons the air conditioner will only be turned on after passengers are entering the coach.
Comparing means of transport
To compare the various means of transport is complex, however for all vehicles counts: the longer the distance, the higher the energy consumption and CO2 emission. In general, the environmental impact (air pollution and CO2 emissions) per mode of transport can be ordered (ascending) as follows:
2. International train
3. High-speed train
4. Car with 4 passengers
5. Car with 4 passengers plus caravan
6. Car with 2 passengers
7. Scheduled flight economy class
8. Car with 2 passengers plus caravan
Transport in the destination
The environmental impact of transport in destinations can be serious because it often takes place in vulnerable natural surroundings. The natural environment and traditional landscapes can be affected significantly by tourism-induced increase of infrastructure, traffic, pollution and noise.
Most of the discussed issues on transport to destinations are also valid for transport within the destinations. Car travel takes up a smaller part in long haul destinations as vacationers generally don’t have their own car at their disposal. An advantage of rental cars is that (mostly) they are rather new and produced according to the latest environmental requirements.
Public transport and cycling are also sustainable ways to travel. But renting mopeds or motorbikes are environmentally not very sound, especially due to the emissions of small particles and noise disturbances. The recent trend towards electric motorbikes is however very positive as it uses a very clean, silent and efficient source of energy. Even if the electricity itself is produced with fossil energy it reduces the carbon emissions by 60 %.
Finally, also for local transport the total distance travelled is an important determinant of its environmental impact. This is important to bear in mind when planning roundtrips and excursions, as well as considering the distance between the accommodations and the beach or the local nightlife. Ideal for both tourists and the environment is when they are within walking distance!