Taking emissions out of the air

18 December 2019

Jagstannarpåmarken. This roughly translates from Swedish as “I’ll stay on the ground”. The related concept of flygskam or “flying shame” is growing amongst the environmentally-aware. It’s one of the issues that I don’t think has permeated to the general public yet; the scale and speed at which western lifestyles need to change to be compatible with a world that stays within 2 degrees of warming.

As an environmental consultancy, we at Aether try to practice what we preach. We operate a Low Carbon Travel Incentive Scheme, rewarding staff financially when they travel by low carbon modes of transport for commuting or business travel. Emissions from flights dominate our company carbon footprint and have continued to increase over the last few years.

To some extent this is a reflection of projects that we work on each year, such as in the Caribbean or southern Africa. The first tactic is to reduce any travel, increasing video-conferencing. We haven’t yet declined a project solely because we would have to fly halfway around the world, but maybe we need to start considering the idea.

However, most of our flights are short or medium distance within Europe. It’s up to the staff travelling to decide how they want to get there, and I will always prefer getting the train.

It’s not always particularly easy; LOCO2 comes close but there is not yet a way to book all your train connections in one go as some train companies only accept direct bookings. The journey will usually take longer than flying (door to door) but it is much easier to work on a train than a plane. I’m no giant, but the extra legroom and space on trains is much more comfortable. Most trains have WiFi now so joining Skype meetings is possible on the move.


A big issue is the cost – remember that story a couple of years ago about flying from Newcastle to London via Spain being cheaper than getting the train? Airlines don’t pay tax on fuel or VAT on tickets, whilst train companies do. Sidestepping the issue of fossil fuel subsidies for now, our financial director is on board and the costs of train travel are built into our travel budgets. On the plus side (apart from a lower carbon footprint), trains will take you into the centre of your destination, rather than having to pay for additional local transport to get to and from the airport. And if it’s a sleeper train, hotel costs can be saved too. For a TFEIP meeting in Zagreb I took the Eurostar to Brussels, an ICE to Zurich and then a sleeper to Zagreb. It was also the night of Eurovision and the victorious Ukrainians were very generous in sharing their medovuha with everyone!

Then there’s the softer side. I challenge anyone to argue in favour of plane food versus a dining car on a pan-European train. There’s no lengthy security check to go through on trains, and the whole journey is less stressful. With a bit of planning you can make the most of the route. For example, if I need to change train stations in Paris, I try and have coffee with a Parisian friend. When getting the train to Warsaw, Rich Claxton and I stopped overnight in Berlin, met up with some friends and explored the local bars. Returning recently from a meeting in Vienna, Rosie Brook and I had breakfast in Vienna, lunch in Frankfurt and dinner in Brussels. Mark Gibbs holds the current record at Aether for longest train journey, travelling from Oxford to Sofia in Bulgaria for an emissions inventory workshop.

It doesn’t always go smoothly, just as it doesn’t always go smoothly by plane. If a train gets cancelled or is so delayed that you miss your connecting train, it can be a scramble to find an alternative train or at worst an alternative flight.

It has its challenges, but personally, as much as possible, jagstannarpåmarken.


Note: for all advice you could possibly need about travelling long distance by train, check out the Man in Seat61.

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Saviour Vassallo, Senior Environment Protection Officer, Malta Resources Authority

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Matthew Dudley, UNFCCC Secretariat

“Aether is a great partner for work in the area of European Air Emissions. The team was committed, reliable, well organised and had a deep technical understanding and motivated other partners with their good spirit.”

Umweltbundesamt: Environment Agency Austria

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Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research

“The team at Aether works very professionally and communicates very well which makes working with them a pleasure. Outputs are delivered on time to high quality. The team brings the rigour of technical knowledge and expertise and finds innovative ways of communicating complex messages. I would be happy to recommend the Aether team to organisations working on analysing and presenting emissions information in the public domain.”

Fiona Glover, States of Jersey

“Both the face-to-face training and the online version have been of high quality, with dynamic methods and a practical orientation that have allowed students to reach a solid knowledge base. The products have been delivered within the stipulated deadlines with an excellent quality and the team has always shown willingness to make adjustments according to the requirements of CONAF. We are very satisfied with the work. ”

Javier Cano Martín, Professional Unit for Climate Change and Environmental Services, CONAF (National Forestry Corporation), Chile

“Engaging Aether to support us to develop the first GHG Inventory System and first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for the United Republic of Tanzania has been a rewarding experience due to their high level of professionalism, creativity, timeliness and value for money. We will definitely consider Aether in our future initiatives.”

Abbas Kitogo, Programme Specialist Energy and Climate Change, UNDP Tanzania

“Chris was excellent to work with and always very pro active in making suggestions, taking work forward and applying his considerable technical knowledge in effective ways.”

Robert Vaughan, Defra Air Quality Team

“Aether's approach to couple innovative visualisation with high expertise manpower delivered valuable insights for our inventory work.”

Umweltbundesamt (Germany)

“It has been a pleasure to work with Chris Dore and Richard Claxton from Aether: they did their job in a very professional and timely manner. The workshop was organized and carried out in a cooperative spirit; the information provided to the workshop participants was complete and clear.”

Alina Novikova, UN/ECE Secretariat

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