Emissions from COP26 private jets are far, far lower than Scotland’s annual CO2 output
9 November 2021
What was claimed
The emissions from private jets flying delegates to Glasgow for COP26 are equivalent to Scotland’s entire annual CO2 emissions.
This is false. A headline in the Sunday Mail claimed that the emissions from 400 private jets is equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of Scottish people. The article clarifies that this refers to 1,600 Scots, not the entire country, however this has been taken out of context in a number of cases.
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-profileTwitteraccounts, giving the impression that the emissions from the private jets account for all of Scotland’s yearly emissions.
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.”
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.
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.
We took a stand for good information.
After we published this fact check, we contacted the Sunday Mail to request a correction regarding this claim.
They corrected the headline.
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