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Carbon Footprint of Flying to COP28

A black private jet flying in the clouds
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Dec 13, 2023
4 minutes read

It always demonstrates a staggering level of hypocrisy when world leaders fly on a multitude of private jets to talk about everyone needing to reduce their emissions. And since Rishi Sunak spent more time on the plane than he did at COP, it really begs the question as to whether anyone is taking the meeting seriously. The Prime Minister has already demonstrated how he doesn’t have environmental issues in his best interest, so this doesn’t come at a surprise.

Extensive Use of Private Jets

At least three delegates from the UK flew separately in their own private jets. These were King Charles, David Cameron and Rishi Sunak. With over 70,000 delegates from almost 200 different countries travelling to the UAE for COP28, at least a few hundred flew. At the previous conference in Egypt, more than 300 journeys took place via private jet. There is even data to suggest that the use of these jets is extending beyond world leaders and is becoming the new norm.

Different Transport Modes

In a globalised world, it’s very easy to get around without using a plane, but sometimes it is the only option available. Flying is one of the most polluting forms of transportation, but it is also the hardest to decarbonise. Private jets come out much worse, demonstrating a complete disparity between the wealthy and the rest of society. Not only this, but it undermines the issues supposedly being addressed at these global talks.

If we look at the carbon footprints of different modes of transport from London to COP28, most of these will have to factor in a flight from Istanbul to Dubai, since you can’t travel all the way by rail or road on account of conflict zones all around the country. This makes it even trickier to help delegates travel the most sustainably.

Different emissions from various transport options from London to Dubai have been included in the interactive graph below. The land options take into account a flight from Istanbul.

Bear in mind this only takes into account emissions of travelling from the UK. Almost 200 countries are involved, so those further away will contribute more. Despite this, short haul flights are often more polluting as take off and landing burns fuel faster than simply cruising. As you can see from the data, private jets are 11 times more polluting than commercial flights, 35 times more than trains and 52 times more than coaches. And that’s even after the commercial flight is factored into it.

Why Do Delegates Still Fly?

What’s partly to blame is where the UN decides to host the COP meeting that year. The UNFCCC reaches this decision, but it should be conscious about the options for land travel and direct flights. Even though Dubai is a central airline hub, there are a lack of safe routes to travel by road.

Considering how polluting private jets are, why do world leaders still opt to use them? The danger here is that the public will deem emissions targets unnecessary if leaders aren’t taking them seriously. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the world, especially if multiple jets come from the same country.

Some groups have been calling for a ban on private jets for years, but people like Rishi Sunak use helicopters and private jets like they’re going out of fashion, without any regard for a need to limit emissions.

Not only this, but the UK press has not been spoken to at length throughout the majority of the COP summit, instead being kept in the dark about what’s happened throughout various talks. This presents a worrying trend that the UK is only ticking boxes instead of trying to apply practical solutions to these problems.

Problems That Need Addressing

The biggest factor at the COP is Dubai is the phasing out of fossil fuels, which seems to have taken a backwards step this year. This is for a variety of reasons, including electing a CEO of an oil company as President of COP28 and hosting the talks in a country that is one of the top exporters of oil in the world.

Implementing renewable technology like wind and solar power has been highlighted as one of the biggest steps to work towards, with targets to triple capacity to 11,000GW and double energy efficiency by 2030. This will only happen with suitable financing measures.

Financial measures, such as the increase to the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, are available to help you heat your home more renewably. You can benefit from £7,500 off the installation of a heat pump with this government scheme. Widely regarded as the low carbon heating of mass scale that can easily slice emissions from UK households, heat pumps are becoming a firm favourite.

See how much you’d pay for a heat pump by clicking on the button below.