It has been wrongly claimed that the emissions from private jets flying delegates to Glasgow for COP26 are equivalent to Scotland’s entire annual CO2 emissions.
This claim is based on an article in the Sunday Mail (the Sunday edition of the Daily Record), published on 31 October, headlined: “Private jets flying to COP26 in Glasgow will blast more CO2 than Scots pump out in a year”.
But the article quickly proceeds to clarify that, by the Sunday Mail’s own calculation, private jets flying to and from COP26 will emit more CO2 than 1,600 Scottish people in a year—not the entire nation.
The fact that the headline alone misses vital context means the article has been shared in isolation by high-profile Twitter accounts, giving the impression that the emissions from the private jets account for all of Scotland’s yearly emissions.
The Sunday Mail’s estimate featured information from campaign group Transport & Environment, which in May compiled a report stating that a single private jet can emit two tonnes of CO2 in one hour.
Lorna Hughes, the Sunday Mail’s editor told Full Fact that the paper estimated there would be 400 private flights to and from COP26, around 100 from European or short haul locations and 300 from further afield. She said this figure was derived from “multiple trusted aviation and industry sources at airports in both Scotland and the rest of the UK”.
Ms Hughes added: “We actually believe 400 planes is conservative as a number of heads of state have commercial airliner sized private jets—Air Force One of course being the prime example—which will emit a lot more CO2.”
There isn’t an official figure for the number of private flights used for the conference, but Mail Online reported that on Sunday 31 October alone “at least” 52 private jets were seen arriving onto the tarmac at Glasgow Airport. While the 400 flights figure has been widely repeated in coverage of COP26, this is not the only estimate that has been published.
A BBC Reality Check article estimated, using Flight Radar data, that at the time their report was published on 3 November, 182 non-commercial flights (not including cargo, regular or local journeys) had arrived into Glasgow, Prestwick and Edinburgh airports since 27 October. The article states that this figure excludes some national chartered flights, such as Air Force One.
Putting issues with the estimate aside, the Sunday Mail estimated that the 100 short haul return flights between Scotland and European locations would fly for an average of four hours. This would equal 400 flying hours, which when multiplied by two carbon tonnes gives a total of 800 tonnes of CO2.
They estimated each private jet on a long-haul return journey would fly for a total of 20 hours. With 300 private flights making this journey, this equals 6,000 flying hours—the equivalent of 12,000 tonnes of CO2.
This adds up to 12,800 tonnes of CO2.
Matt Finch, of the Transport & Environment campaign group, told Full Fact that they also provided the figure to the Sunday Mail that the average person in the EU emits 8.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e, a unit which measures the global warming potential of emissions of different greenhouse gases, equivalent to one tonne of CO2) over the course of an entire year. This itself is derived from a report on global sustainability published by Cambridge University Press.
Dr Simon Evans, deputy editor of Carbon Brief, verified that this was also roughly the figure for Scotland. He did this by dividing the country’s 2019 CO2 emissions (45,867,000 tCO2e) by its population (5,466,000) to reach 8.4 tCO2e per person in 2019.
Dividing the amount of CO2 estimated to have been emitted by private flights to and from COP26 by eight (the rounded tCO2e for an average EU citizen per year), comes to a total of 1,600 people.
There are clearly limits to this calculation which is an estimate built on a number of assumptions which may not be accurate including how many flights are scheduled, how long they will fly for and how much CO2 they will emit.
What we do know, however, is that private jet emissions from COP26 are categorically nowhere near Scotland’s entire CO2 emissions for a year. In 2019, Scotland emitted 45,867,000 tonnes of CO2—more than 3,500 times the private jet emissions estimated by the Sunday Mail.