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Air passengers’ CO2 emissions rocket as traffic falls

Airlines are flying half-empty aircraft due to a dramatic fall in traffic during the pandemic, which has led to a big increase in each passengers’ personal carbon dioxide emissions.

Budget airline Wizz revealed this week that only 56% of its seats were occupied on flights in December, which meant that the emissions for each individual passenger onboard rose almost 44%.

And Wizz claims to be one of the world’s greenest airlines, usually kicking out far fewer carbon dioxide that its rivals due to its modern fleet.

However, Wizz is also one of the few airlines that has persisted in operating flights on routes where demand has been decimated due to Government entry restrictions. Cynics suggest this is because it’s cheaper for Wizz to operate near-empty flights than to cancel the flights and refund passengers who’d booked but couldn’t travel.

Prior to the pandemic, commercial flights accounted for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions – which are one of the main causes of climate change.

Overall, airline CO2 emissions fell sharply last year when passenger flights were grounded for months due to worldwide lockdowns.

Wizz said its emissions for the 12 months to December were down 50% year on year, but its emissions for each passenger rose 17%.

The fall in the number of seats occupied on each flight means that if you pay into a voluntary scheme to offset your carbon emissions, it is likely to significantly under-calculate how much you need to contribute.

Of course, it’s debatable whether these carbon offset schemes really do any good, even easyJet – which offsets its own carbon emissions – admits they’re not perfect.

Linsey McNeill

A journalist and travel writer of 35 years' standing, a once-a-week yogi, terrible skier and out-of-order mum to 2 teens. Previously Editor of, bylines also include The Telegraph, The Times, The Observer, the London Evening Standard, Which? and The South China Morning Post.

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