WE have to change! The carbon footprint of ECPR general conferences and ways to reduce it

Abstract

The political consequences of climate change have been topics at numerous political science conferences. Contrary to the plurality of discussions at these meetings, it is striking that there is no systematic account of the carbon footprint of political science conferences themselves. Applying a GIS-based approach I estimate the travel induced greenhouse gas emissions of the last six ECPR General Conferences (2013–18). The results show that for the five conferences that took part in Europe the average emissions per attendee were between 0.5–1.3 tons CO2-equivalents. At the 2015 conference in Montreal it were even 1.9–3.4 tons. Compared to estimations based on the latest IPCC reports which call for a reduction of per capita emissions to 2.5 tons by 2030 and even 0.7 tons by 2050 in order to keep on track with the 1.5-degree goal, the travel induced GHG-emissions of ECPR conferences are very high. Yet, further estimations demonstrate that significant emission reductions are possible: by choosing more central conference venues, promoting low-emission landbound means of transportation and introducing online participation for researchers from far away, the carbon footprint could be reduced by 75–90 per cent. The article also gives concrete recommendations how the carbon footprint of conferences could be reduced.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Being accepted as a presenter at a prestigious conference is seen as an indicator for scientific achievements. That is also why we find conference participations in most scientific CVs.

  2. 2.

    While long-haul flights reach higher altitudes where the CO2 exerts more harmful effects the high-emission take-off and landing phases make up a higher proportion in short-haul flights. Thus, in this paper no distinction between long-haul and short-haul flights will be made.

  3. 3.

    In accordance with the general usage of the term I subsume not only carbon dioxide (CO2) to GHG, but also methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO2). The overall GHG emissions are presented in CO2 equivalents.

  4. 4.

    The 2011 ECPR General Conference in Reykjavik had probably a similar or even higher carbon footprint. Yet, for this conference, as for the others before, no paper/presenter details were available at the ECPR website, so that I was not able to estimate the GHG emissions for them.

  5. 5.

    In order to come to a more realistic estimate it would be necessary to know the average speed of a train on a given route section of the railway network (just as Openrouteservice offers for the street network). Yet, such data is unfortunately not available.

  6. 6.

    For the train scenario the difference between the conferences in Oslo and Hamburg is even a bit higher than for the bus scenario: 242–434 kg CO2-eq.

  7. 7.

    A further argument for Frankfurt would be that it has one of Europe’s largest airports (4th after London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Amsterdam Schiphol) which serves a lot of direct flights to major cities, thus minimising the need for longer travel distances due to transfers.

  8. 8.

    These estimates are probably even much too high given the fact that a number of participants already are vegetarians or vegans (no more reduction possible) and that ECPR only offers lunch catering and one reception, so that the majority of meals taken during the conference cannot be influenced by the ECPR.

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Jäckle, S. WE have to change! The carbon footprint of ECPR general conferences and ways to reduce it. Eur Polit Sci 18, 630–650 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-019-00220-6

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Keywords

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Climate change
  • ECPR general conferences
  • Estimation
  • Carbon footprint