French lawmakers have moved to ban short-haul internal flights where train alternatives exist, in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.
The Senate has voted for one of the key and symbolic provisions of the climate and resilience bill. It concerns the abolition of domestic air routes, when an alternative train journey of less than 2.5 hours exists, unless the routes in question carry at least 50% connecting passengers, to avoid transfer to foreign hubs.
Airlines around the world have been severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with website Flightradar24 reporting that the number of flights in 2020 were down almost 42% from 2019.
This measure is inspired by the proposals that came out of the Citizens’ Climate Convention, except that the citizens had set the bar much higher, calling for an end to domestic flights when an alternative train journey of less than four hours exists.
The measures could affect travel between Paris and cities including Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux. The French government had faced calls to introduce even stricter rules.
France’s Citizens’ Convention on Climate, which was created by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and included 150 members of the public, had proposed scrapping plane journeys where train journeys of under four hours existed.
But this was reduced to two-and-a-half hours after objections from some regions, and the airline Air France-KLM.
But to go a little further we will compare the carbon footprints of the two means of transport, the plane and the train.
Is flying really the most polluting?
Air travel has been considered the most polluting mode of transport, far more polluting than trains, buses and even cars. Is this true?
Admittedly, overall, air transport accounts for less than 4-5% of global CO2 emissions, i.e. more than twice as little as road transport. But air travel is still one of the most polluting modes of transport, along with the car. For example, on a journey of a few hundred kilometres, the plane will pollute 10 to 50 times more than an electric high-speed train, or 5 to 10 times more than a bus. The problem with air transport is its generalisation and trivialisation: long-distance air travel should remain exceptional. From an environmental point of view, the growth of air transport is therefore not desirable in itself.
For a plane there are 285 g of CO2/passenger/km.
If you are interested in reducing your carbon footprint on your next flight, we invite you to read our article “Offset your carbon footprint when booking your flight“.
But what about the train?
Let’s take a concerted example: a trip from Paris to Marseille. If, by TGV, the CO2 emissions for each passenger is 1.7 kg per kilometre, the car will emit 127 kg. This is 74 times more than the train with a single passenger. However, if there are four passengers, it is only 31 kg per passenger. For this one and a half hour journey, it will emit 82.7 kg of CO2 per passenger according to the DGAC. 49 times more than the train.
The gap between the two forms of transport widens if you take shorter journeys. Like a trip from Paris to Rennes. With a Ouigo, we are talking about 0.7 kg of CO2 emissions per SNCF customer. That’s 84 times less than a car (59.3 kg of CO2) and 115 times less than a plane (80.7 kg of CO2 per passenger).
On average, the train emits 14 g of CO2/passenger/km.
So while the difference in pollution is greater or lesser depending on the journey or the number of passengers, the idea given by the SNCF boss is the right one. Undoubtedly, rail is the greenest of the three modes of transport.
What do you think of this measure? Would you like to see the same implemented in your country?