COVID-19 Travel Trends; as featured on The Telegraph and Euronews

Written by Ellen West on 12 Jan 2021

Latest research from our team shows carbon emissions reduced by 23.8 MT CO2e globally this December just gone as a result of COVID-19. This is equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 2.25 million oak trees across their entire lifetime.

As the COVID-19 pandemic circulated the globe, flights were suspended at short-notice en-mass. Countries have since enforced lockdown restrictions, further complicating travel. Having been featured on the Telegraph and Euronews, let’s dive into what this impact looks like, and what it could mean for the environment.

Flight numbers fell by an average of 41% in 2020 compared to 2019.

The most significant reduction happened in April, with a 73.6% decline in commercial flights.

326 MT CO2e emissions were saved globally last year due to fewer flights.

From calculating the percentage decline in flights, we can calculate CO2e emissions saved. The result was an astounding amount - just over 326 MT of CO2e reduction. For context, 326 MT is almost as much as the UK emits in a year.

The UK has seen an average decline of 61.5% in aircraft emissions in 2020.

The Telegraph featured our UK statistics. A 59% fall in aircraft movements in the UK saw a 61.5% average reduction in flights throughout the year of 2020. The most significant reduction happened in April again, with a massive 92.5% reduction in commercial flights.

Due to the pandemic, 23.8 MT less CO2e emissions from aircraft entered the atmosphere in December 2020 globally.

The estimate used the comparison between the number of flights that took to the skies in 2020 and 2019, on a month-by-month basis. As a result of the pandemic, we saw around 1.3 million less flights in December 2020, compared to the previous year, which saw over 3 million flights. The corresponding carbon saving is roughly the amount of carbon captured by 2.25 million oak trees, across their entire lifetime.*

Based on current travel trends, our analysis estimates that January will see a similar global carbon saving of 26.6 MT CO2e.

We estimate further savings in January 2021, as lockdowns persist on a global scale.

“Businesses need to start accurately calculating their carbon emissions if they want to reduce their carbon emissions, and as a business that’s something we focus on.” - Kit Brennan, founder of Thrust Carbon. Euronews, Friday 8th January 2021.

Commenting on the new data, Thrust Carbon founders Kit Brennan and Mark Corbett prefer to take the positives.

As the world struggles to combat the climate crisis, any significant reduction in emissions should be welcomed.”

“To assess this, we used our carbon analysis process, typically reserved for individual businesses, to the wider global aviation industry. The analysis shows that the world can dramatically reduce its carbon emissions, but it requires bold action.”

“The climate impact from COVID-19 will be very short-lived. We have to think further forward into the future and use reliable, transparent, and long-term solutions to combating the climate crisis.

“We believe that most people and businesses do care about the crisis and want to go carbon neutral as soon as possible, but they think it’s too difficult. That’s why we exist; we’re here to make the whole process workable, easier, more transparent and financially viable.

What does this mean in the long run? For your business? For the future of our planet?

This analysis shows that we are capable of reducing aviation emissions whilst continuing to fuel business growth, even in an unprecedented pandemic. Digital-first approaches to working life and communication are now not only recognised as possible, but perhaps preferable by employees! They have the potential to save emissions for the years to come, and it is essential we do not lose this development post-pandemic.

Whilst we have seen a reduction in aviation emissions in 2020, this does not mean that we have put out the fire. It is estimated that we will only see between a 4-7% CO2e reduction this year globally. This is due to increased carbon emissions in other industries and sectors, for example heating our homes.

We must anticipate these changes and plan for adequate emissions reduction. With travel on hold, now is the time to act. Businesses that accurately calculate their CO2e emissions will be better able to reduce them, and better harness the global power of their workforce to drive business growth. There is plenty of work to be done.

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Stay tuned for more data-driven insights from the Thrust Carbon team. Let’s make travel effortlessly green together.


*CANNELL, M.G.R. (1999). Growing trees to sequester carbon in the UK: answers to some common questions. Forestry 72, p.244. 1 oak tree sequesters 2.86 tonnes of carbon = 10.5 tonnes of CO2.

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