The Young Academy in report:
Unis should do more to reduce air travel
The universities do mean well, says the report Flying high but flying less, which was published on November 11. In the report, The Young Academy takes a closer look at Dutch universities’ sustainability policies and their efforts to reduce flying. Universities have plenty of green offices, road maps, and policy objectives. But that’s not enough, the Academy says.
Policy makers says they feel there’s a lack of tools and mandate. Any measures in place are informal, which means they’re not very effective. At the same time, it’s clear that flying is responsible for a large part of universities’ CO2 emissions. The Erasmus University estimates theirs is at 27 percent, while the UG says 12 percent of its CO2 emissions are due to flying.
The universities prefer to focus on making their real estate more sustainable, by using green power, geothermal heating, or energy-efficient buildings, and don’t pay much attention to the impact flying has. The Young Academy says the universities’ policies on the issue are ‘fragmented, powerless, and ineffective’.
Central policies are often ineffective on a faculty level, and while universities try to offset their CO2 emissions, this doesn’t change anything about how often people fly. Most universities’ policies involve discouraging or banning short flights, when in fact most damage is done by intercontinental flying.
Wageningen estimates that 60 percent of people flying for the university leave Europe. The UG counts the number of kilometres people fly. Eighty-four percent of the total number of kilometres flown in 2019 was intercontinental. A study done last year by UKrant showed that 70 percent of flights from 2017 to 2019 where within Europe.
The Young Academy says universities should aim for a culture change by, for example, setting conditions when they award research grants and by sharing best practices.
The informal nature of the actions also needs to change. ‘Opt for reducing flights, not carbon offsetting’, the Academy writes. ‘Ban air travel for journeys that can be made within eight hours by alternative means of transport and consider introducing CO2 quota for research projects/groups to force researchers to prioritise.’
Last year, the UG introduced a directive to limit flying. People were no longer allowed to fly to a European destination if the destination could also be reached by alternative means within six hours or if the distance was less than five hundred kilometres.