Was your flight to COP really necessary?

Erin Vera — November 30, 2022

Conference season is back and so is business flying. But do employees really want to return to travelling like before?

Uncontrolled levels of business flying is a climate absurdity. Our analysis shows that the best way to keep aviation emissions within the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree target is a 50% reduction in business travel in the current critical decade. Yet the contradiction between the science and the attitudes of some businesses leaves many observers wondering if we will ever solve the climate crisis.

This phenomenon cannot be made more obvious than at the annual COP jamboree. Figures from last year’s conference are jaw dropping. The emissions at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, were about 102,500 tons of CO2, with 60% of that coming from flights.  More than 400 private jets carrying world leaders and business executives to COP26 released 13,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

As hoards of business delegates – including over 600 from oil and gas companies – descended on Sharm el Sheikh earlier this month, one cannot but ask the question: what did the business world learn from the pandemic and why should conferences, especially climate ones, require so many unnecessary flights? 

There were many opportunities for online participation at the COP, which has added benefits of being an efficient use of time and resources, and being more inclusive for a broader group of participants, including people from countries most affected by climate change. 

But few people opted for this option.According to the University of London, the footprint of the ‘digital delegation’, experiencing the conference online, is less than 1% of that of even the most efficient travel to Sharm El-Sheikh. 

The attitudes of the few flyers contradict the beliefs of the many. Employees expect a shift in corporate attitudes to flying. A recent survey published by the Travel Smart Campaign showed that three-quarters of employees believe that an important factor for reducing a business’s carbon footprint is curbing levels of corporate flying. How should businesses achieve this? The vast majority of employees we surveyed believe that to reduce levels of corporate flying, businesses must set targets and include travel policies.

There is a clear  discrepancy between the attitudes of business leaders and the demands of employees. The latter see their bosses jet setting off to COP, Davos and other conferences, to represent the company colours, with little regard for the planet. In the long-run, this can be a dangerous game for employers. A recent survey found that more than a third of employees are willing to walk out of their job if their employer does little or nothing to fight the climate crisis. So will less flying be the white flag between employers and their staff?

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