The G7 Summit is taking place in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on 11-13 June 2021. As well as the leaders of the G7 countries and the current President of the EU and President of the European Commission, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (the current G7 president and this year’s host) has invited the leaders of Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa to attend. With thirteen world leaders, their security details, entourages, and the world’s press travelling to Cornwall, the event is set to create a staggering carbon footprint. Whilst the summit itself is being billed as “carbon neutral” (complying with the internationally recognised quality standard for sustainable events management), it is yet to be made clear whether that applies to the event alone or all of the associated travel and activities. We hope that the attending global powers will bear this in mind and use the summit to make significant and meaningful progress on the climate emergency. As a helpful prompt for them, we’ve estimated the carbon footprint of each of the primary G7 leaders for their return trip to Cornwall. We demand action on the climate crisis now. #dontdoitdreckly
How we calculated these figures
Working out the carbon footprint of each of the world leaders’ travel is difficult and, at best, a ball park estimation. Joe Biden isn’t hopping on an American Airlines flight and sitting in economy class, so we couldn’t just plug the journeys through an online calculator and offsetting tool. Each of the leaders will have different travel arrangements, most of which aren’t public knowledge for security reasons. Their airplanes are not standard (think fewer seats and more communications technology and armour plating), and some leaders have a number of different planes available to them. We started by researching the different planes used by each of the attending world leaders, or at least the aircraft that they are most likely to travel in. We then looked up the manufacturers specifications for the standard model of each plane to find out its maximum fuel capacity and maximum range. We multiplied the fuel capacity in litres by 0.8 to get the maximum fuel capacity mass in kg. The potential emissions for each aircraft was calculated by multiplying the mass of fuel consumed × emission factor, which for JetA Kerosene (standard jet fuel) is 3.15. Emissions per kilometer was calculated by dividing the emissions figure by the aircraft’s maximum range. We researched the distance from the capital city of each world leader (or the home air base of their aircraft, if available) to Newquay airport/RAF St Mawgan, and the emissions per km figure was multiplied by the distance. Several world leaders are known to travel with two planes – the second acting as a decoy and back-up. Where this is publicly available knowledge we multiplied the carbon emissions for a one-way trip by the number of planes dedicated to transporting the leader (we haven’t factored in the travel for their entire delegation as it is unknown) and then doubled each figure to account for a return journey.
The final figure for each world leader that we came to is our best estimation. There are many variables that we can’t know, and some specific details that will affect the weight and therefore the carbon emissions of each flight (such as the fuel load required for the distance flown). Some European leaders may fly in a smaller aircraft because of the short-hail nature of their journey. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is supposed to travel on a standard commercial flight unless her schedule makes it impossible for her to travel any other way than by private aircraft. The aircrafts used by the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of South Africa are not suitable for long haul journeys, so they may have other arrangements, perhaps with their nations’ national carrier. These are just a few of the unknowns or variables that could throw our calculations by potentially significant factors. The only leader whose travel arrangements are hard to keep a secret are those of the American President. There are multiple sources that detail the bare minimum number of planes, helicopters, limousines and specialist vehicles that Joe Biden will be bringing with him, so we’ve done a separate calculation* for him.
It’s important to add too that we have only calculated the carbon emissions for these flights. But aircraft don’t just emit carbon dioxide – they also emit large amounts of water vapour (seen as contrails) and nitrous oxide gases (that catalyse various atmospheric chemical reactions, notably the production of ozone which, at the typical altitude of aircraft flight, is a powerful greenhouse gas). These effects in combination are much more damaging than the carbon dioxide alone: the IPCC estimate that the total warming effect, in CO2e, is 2.7 times greater than the mass of CO2 emitted.
*We calculated the carbon footprint for Joe Biden’s two Airforce One Boeing 747 200Bs to be 550 tonnes. However, those two aircraft are part of a larger fleet that will deliver the American President, his staff, security, his Marine One helicopters and specialist vehicles to Cornwall. Multiple sources cite that the minimum fleet expected includes two Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (Hercules) transport planes that deliver the Marine One helicopters and Presidential motorcade vehicles, and four Boeing 767 passenger aircraft for various staff. Using the same methodology as above, we calculated Biden’s total carbon footprint for flights to Cornwall to be just over 2218 tonnes of CO2.