What is your worst vacation experience

Travel, means of transport and their carbon footprint

How is the travel behavior of Germans changing?

Germans are taking vacation more often again: In 2018, a total of 55 million people were on vacation for at least five days - one million more than in the previous year, according to the Research Association Vacation and Travel. This means that 78 percent of Germans took at least one holiday trip of at least five days in 2018. In addition, there are 35 million people who have taken short vacations. From 2010 (52 million people) to 2014 (57 million people) the number of holiday travelers increased, then fell briefly - now the trend is up again. In the long term, there is a trend towards more travel, as data for the period since 1971 show.

The tourism sector is also growing worldwide: the number of overnight visitors increased by six percent in 2018 to 1.4 billion. The number is expected to rise to an estimated 1.8 billion by 2030, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), an organization of the United Nations.

Germans travel to other countries more than ever. 51 million trips were made abroad in 2018, that is 73 percent of all vacation trips. But Germany itself is also a popular travel destination. 27 percent of all Germans go on vacation in their own country.

The federal states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein are particularly popular. Spain was the most frequent travel destination abroad, followed by Italy, Turkey and Austria. Eight percent of vacation trips were long-haul trips to destinations outside Europe, especially destinations in North America and Southeast Asia.

Which modes of transport are used for travel?

The most common means of travel for Germans in 2018 was still a private car or mobile home (45 percent), now closely followed by the airplane (41 percent). In recent years, there has been a shift towards air travel and away from traveling by car: the share of travel by car decreased by three percentage points between 2010 and 2018, while the share of air travel rose by four percentage points in the same period. Germans rarely use the bus (six percent) or train (five percent) for their trips.

The choice of means of transport obviously depends on the travel destination. For domestic destinations, the proportion of trips by private car or mobile home is 74 percent, well above the average, while for international destinations, the proportion of trips by plane (56 percent) predominates.

What significance does tourism have for society and the economy?

Vacation is very important to most people. Many say that vacationing is essential for them. In our society - also in the economy - it is assumed that vacation is important for recreation and has a positive influence on people.

At the same time, tourism is an important economic factor in many countries and regions. In Germany, too, it is a branch of the economy in which considerable sales are generated and in which many people work. According to the federal government's tourism policy report, tourism in Germany generates gross added value of almost 100 billion euros. This corresponds to a share of 4.4 percent of all goods and services produced. 2.9 million people are directly employed in tourism. Many countries and regions therefore use so-called tourism marketing to advertise specifically for holiday guests.

How does travel affect the climate and the environment?

Tourism influences the environment and the climate. How big this influence is cannot be answered across the board, because the loads are diverse. These include, for example, climate-damaging emissions from travel, but also the consumption of water, land and goods as well as the generation of waste or the loss of biodiversity in the holiday regions.

On arrival and departure, there are primarily pollution from the consumption of fuel, the emission of climate-damaging gases and the impairment of the atmosphere through air pollution and noise emissions. At the holiday destination, land use by accommodation such as hotels and holiday apartments is one of the influences on the environment. In addition, leisure activities have a particularly strong impact on biodiversity.

The traffic generated by tourism carries through the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes to climate change. Means of transport consume energy, mostly from fossil sources, and emit climate-damaging CO when burning fuels, for example2 free. In addition, traffic can also have a significant impact at the holiday destination itself, on the environment, but also on the holiday experience. Aircraft and road traffic noise, traffic jams and exhaust fumes can cause disruption. Sustainable mobility and travel is therefore not only an issue of arrival and departure, but also of mobility at the holiday destination itself.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), around five percent of global CO is generated2-Emissions directly from tourism. 75 percent of all CO2-Emissions that are attributed to tourism come from traffic, and especially from travel to and from the airport. Of this, 40 percent come from air traffic and 32 percent from the use of cars. The remaining three percent are emitted when traveling by bus and train. This makes it clear what a great influence travelers have when it comes to choosing the means of transport.

The CO2-Emission depends to a large extent on two factors: the distance from the travel destination and the choice of means of transport. This means that by choosing their travel destination and mode of transport, travelers can influence how climate-friendly their vacation is.

Why are air travel particularly harmful to the climate?

Traveling by plane has a particularly impact on the climate. According to the Federal Environment Agency, an airplane emits an average of 201 grams of greenhouse gases per traveler per kilometer, a car weighs 139 grams, coaches and trains weigh 32 and 36 grams, respectively. The most environmentally friendly thing is the bicycle: the CO2Emissions are zero.

When travel destinations are far away, you need significantly less time to travel to and from the airport compared to other means of transport. But the plane is the most harmful means of transport for the climate. For example, a flight from Germany to the Canary Islands, which are around 3,800 kilometers away, and back causes around 1800 kilograms of CO per person to be emitted2. For comparison: with a fully occupied mid-range car you could drive around 45,000 kilometers to get as much CO2-Causing emissions.

When jet fuel is burned, kerosene is not the only thing that produces CO2 released, but nitrogen oxides, small particles such as soot particles, and water vapor also get into the air. They also contribute to the warming of the earth's atmosphere, also because at the usual cruising altitude they can set atmospheric processes in motion whose climate impact is significantly higher than that of CO2 alone, for example due to the cloud formation caused by air traffic.

Contrails, which themselves have an impact on the climate, can intensify them if cirrus clouds (veil clouds) develop from them. They also contribute to the warming of the atmosphere because, although they allow most of the solar radiation coming from space to pass through, but not the heat rays coming from the earth's surface. It can be assumed that the greenhouse effect of these "non-CO2-Effects "of the air traffic is altogether about two to five times higher than the sole effect of the emitted CO2. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is assuming comparable figures.

Long-distance bus and train are more climate-friendly than other modes of transport

In the past few years, the so-called long-distance buses have emerged as another means of travel. The starting point was the liberalization of the long-distance bus market in 2013. Since then, providers have also been allowed to use routes for which there are direct rail connections.

Long-distance buses have now established themselves as a means of transport for travel. After an immense increase in passenger numbers in the first few years after 2013, the market has consolidated. In 2016 long-distance buses carried 23 million passengers.

Long-distance buses are seen as a more cost-effective alternative to trains or cars. There are various reasons for this: On the one hand, personnel costs and social standards are lower in the long-distance bus operator market than in the rail network. On the other hand, the railway pays train path prices for every kilometer driven, while the long-distance bus does not have to pay a toll on motorways.

In environmental comparisons, the long-distance bus is often compared to the train. In the opinion of the Federal Environment Agency, however, the environmental problems in long-distance passenger transport are to a much lesser extent with buses and trains than with motorized individual transport and air traffic, which is why environmental and transport policy measures should primarily pursue the goal of strengthening more environmentally friendly means of transport such as buses and trains.

Initial assessments show that the additional emissions from buses can be compensated for, in particular through the "migration" of travelers from cars to long-distance buses with the simultaneous elimination of car journeys; overall, significant emissions savings in terms of air pollutants and greenhouse gases could be achieved in Germany. At the same time, there is so far little reliable data that specifically deals with the environmental impact of long-distance buses.

In long-distance traffic in Germany, but also in Europe, the railways in particular offer good opportunities to reach the holiday destination in a relatively climate-friendly way and in a reasonable time. The emission of greenhouse gases per traveler per kilometer is particularly low compared to aircraft and cars.

Deutsche Bahn AG is increasingly using electricity that is generated from renewable energies. According to its own information, the company obtained 57 percent of DB traction power from renewable energies in 2018. However, 25 percent of the traction current is still a quarter of coal electricity. By 2030, Deutsche Bahn intends to increase the proportion of green electricity to 80 percent and to 100 percent by 2050. Accordingly, it can be assumed that rail traffic will cause even fewer greenhouse gases in the future than it does today. A completely greenhouse gas-neutral rail transport is conceivable in the future.

Environmental groups criticize long-distance travel that is harmful to the climate

Because of the trend towards more air travel and its impact on the climate, environmental associations such as Nabu or the VCD transport association have long been calling for a kerosene tax to be introduced. So far, air traffic has been exempt from mineral oil tax, while rail companies, for example, pay a mineral oil and electricity tax.

Another demand is to repeal the VAT exemption for cross-border air traffic. Deutsche Bahn has to pay VAT for international rail connections.

Environmental associations also advocate the introduction of an eco tax, through which environmental damage or effects on the climate as a result of air travel would be included in the price of flight tickets. The measures would lead to increasing airfares. Environmental groups hope that it will become less attractive for travelers to book climate-damaging air travel and that they will instead opt for climate-friendly means of transport. So far, air travel has often been cheaper than traveling by train, not least through so-called low-cost airlines.

A special form of vacation has become more popular in the recent past: traveling by cruise ship. These trips are also criticized by environmental groups such as Nabu as a threat to the environment and the climate. They complain that the requirements for emissions from cruise ships - as well as ships in general - are inadequate. Most of the cruise ships are powered by heavy fuel oil. Heavy oil is a waste product from the processing of oil and is very cheap. However, the combustion of heavy oil produces considerably more emissions than, for example, the combustion of gasoline or diesel. The pollutants emitted include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. Many cruise ships also do not have particulate filters. When converting to liquefied natural gas (LNG), as practiced by some cruise operators, the climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions still remain.

The emissions are often emitted in the vicinity of cities or in environmentally sensitive areas such as fjords, which are approached by cruise ships. According to the Federal Environment Agency, there were 300 cruise ships worldwide in 2016. It can be assumed that the number has recently increased; recent media reports assume that there are 600 cruise ships worldwide.

How can you travel in a climate-friendly way?

Many people would like to travel more climate-friendly: A survey from 2014 shows that two out of three travelers would like to travel in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way. In another, 22 percent of those surveyed stated that their vacation should be very environmentally friendly, resource-saving and environmentally friendly. This includes not only the means of travel, but also accommodation or leisure activities.

There is further evidence that awareness of the impact of travel on the climate and the environment is growing. The term "flight shame" (original: "Flygskam") has recently appeared in Scandinavian countries. It describes a feeling of shame that arises when flying due to the high environmental pollution caused by air travel.

But travel and climate protection are often not easy to combine. Additional costs are often cited as an obstacle to sustainable travel. In addition, almost half of the respondents state that there are no sustainable travel offers for their special holiday wishes.

In addition to more choice, there is also a lack of information and transparency: 42 percent of those surveyed who would like to travel sustainably would like a clear seal and / or quality mark for sustainability when going on holiday. With the Travelife Sustainability in Tourism, TourCert for sustainability in tourism and the Viabono certificate, there are now recognized national and international initiatives that award seals for sustainable tourism.

Another help to get your own CO2KlimAktiv offers to calculate emissions: On behalf of the Federal Environment Ministry, the climate protection initiative has the CO2-Computer developed by the Federal Environment Agency. It makes it possible to determine in advance how high the respective emissions would be for different travel destinations and means of transport. This in turn can influence both the choice of travel destination and the means of transport used for the trip.

Because a fundamental way to improve your climate balance when traveling is to choose your travel destination so that it is not too far away and you can get there without taking a plane, for example. Within a radius of only 800 kilometers are holiday destinations that offer what most people are looking for on holiday: relaxation, forests, mountains, beaches and sights. There are no emissions at all, even when walking or cycling in the local area, few emissions are generated when traveling that can be covered by local public transport. In addition, it is an approach to travel less often and for longer, because - as shown above - it is precisely the arrival and departure that causes environmental damage. In addition, you can also ensure that you are climate-friendly when you are on holiday - even if you have chosen to travel by plane or car.

More and more people who cannot or do not want to prevent air travel also compensate for the greenhouse gases caused by their travel. Organizations such as Atmosfair use the compensation payments to manage climate protection projects according to high standards, which are intended to compensate for the environmental damage caused by travel.

Related Links

Federal Environment Agency: Comparison of the average emissions of individual modes of transport in passenger transport

Federal Environment Agency: Air travel

Federal Environment Agency: Sustainable Tourism

Federal Environment Agency: Tips for vacation trips

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