Image source, Alamy

Critics have been levelled at the large number of world leaders, and other delegates, who traveled to the COP26 summit by private planes.

What environmental harm do they cause? Did leaders make any choices?

Prestwick Airport, South Ayrshire has been attracting a wide variety of planes to its skies for the past few years.

It’s not just those who ferry the leaders, but cargo planes have also arrived to transport helicopters and other vehicles.

So, it is known that in Glasgow, President Biden had one of his armoured cars, “The Beast”, along with him. On Sunday, he also owned one in Rome.

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FlightRadar24 is a flight tracking company that tracks flights. Since 27 October, FlightRadar24 has been looking at non-commercial flights to Edinburgh, Prestwick and Glasgow. This excludes cargo or regular journeys.

The total number of such flights was 182, which represents about twice the amount for the six previous days. This excludes national chartered flights like President Biden’s Air Force One.

Cirium, an aviation analytics firm, told BBC that there were 76 private flights or VIP flights to and from Glasgow over the period of four days preceding 1 November.

Private planes also fly from Glasgow Airport in Paisley where passengers are dropped off, to Glasgow Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire where they park – an approximate distance of 41km.

The burning of fuel causes greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) in flight. They contribute to global warming.

The emissions per kilometre traveled are significantly higher than other forms of transportation.

However, this can change depending on how large the aircraft is and what efficiency they are using. Commercial flights produce far less emissions than private jets.

Although there are many private jet models, the Cessna Citation XLS – which is a consistent favorite – uses an average of 189 gallons (857 litres), of aviation fuel per hour.

Consider the trip from Rome to Glasgow by private jet. This journey was made by some G20 leaders to reach COP 26, and would require 2,356 litres jet fuel.

According to Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2.52kg of carbon dioxide are emitted for every 1 liter of aviation turbine fuel. Accordingly, this flight would emit 5.9 tonnes CO2.

BEIS suggests that CO2 emissions numbers be multiplied with 1.9 in order to capture the greatest climate impact of flights. This is to account for the non-CO2 emission from planes flying at high altitudes, which scientists claim increase the warming effect.

This would mean that the aircraft would emit 11.3 tonnes CO2 equivalent and each passenger would contribute to 1.2 tonnes.

However, if our leaders from around the world had chosen to fly a commercial plane between Rome and Glasgow, their carbon footprints would have been about a quarter of one tonne. Even though commercial flights use more fuel per hour they can carry far more passengers per hour and produce fewer carbon emissions per person.

No matter how many passengers you bring, takeoff and landing require a lot of fuel. Commercial aviation is already a polluting transport mode. Private jets are even more harmful,” explained Dr Debbie Hopkins, a specialist in decarbonising transport at the University of Oxford.

The US President Joe Biden held a virtual summit on climate for world leaders in April. Some commitments were made.

Some have talked at this summit about meeting face-to-face.

According to the president of Sierra Leone, “I’ve traveled extensively for my work – I need to be there. They won’t know what I did if they don’t see me here.

Liz Truss from the UK was quoted as saying that face-to–face discussions are necessary in order to “crunch negotiations”, such as these.

A second question that is often being asked via social media is “Why was it in Rome?”

G20 refers to a combination of large economies and the European Union.

The group holds a summit every year hosted by the country holding the rotating presidency.

If COP26 were to have taken place in November 2020, like originally planned, then it would have been immediately followed by G20 Summit in Riyadh.

Update 3/11: In the case of the Cessna airplane, the piece was modified to make US gallons equivalent to UK gallons.

  • The most urgent problem facing the planet is climate change. If we want to stop global warming, governments must make more aggressive cuts in greenhouse gases.
  • Glasgow summit could be the site of change. It is important to be aware of the statements made by some of the biggest polluters in the world, such as the US or China. Also, you need to monitor whether the poorer nations are receiving the assistance they require.
  • Our lives will be forever changed. This could affect our employment, heating our homes and what we eat.

Find out more information about the COP26 summit.

  • The importance of the COP26 summit on climate change
  • A simple guide for climate change
  • Is climate change something you can see?
  • Greta Thunberg is right to question the UK’s carbon emissions
  • What can big polluters do to reduce carbon emissions

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