vEGU21 Carbon tracker

How much carbon do we save by being fully online in 2021? We worked with climate researcher Milan Klöwer to calculate the hypothetical carbon footprint this year if all our attendees travelled to Vienna minus the actual emissions from video conferencing. Milan explained this calculation to us and why flying to conferences is generally the most carbon intensive activity of research.

"In 2019, 16,273 people from 113 countries attended EGU19, the last in-person General Assembly before the COVID-19 pandemic. Counting the participants who travelled to and from Vienna, EGU19 emitted 22,300 tCO2e, most of which resulted from long-haul flights over 1,500 km. The EGU General Assembly had a an annual increase of about 6% in attendance pre-COVID, so if that is extrapolated to 2021, EGU21 would have had a carbon footprint of about 25,000 tCO2e from more than 18,000 attendees — if it not had gone fully online. Most of carbon would be emitted at the beginning of the conference during the arrival journeys of the attendees and at the end when everyone leaves again. For this, we simplified the calculation, counting up at a constant rate of 25.5 kg of CO2 every second till we will have saved 25,000 tCO2 at the end of vEGU21.

But doesn't video conferencing also cause carbon emissions? This is correct, depending on the quality of the video there is a lot of data that is sent between our personal devices, which consume electricity too. However, even at the rather high estimate of 30 gCO2 per hour video-streaming per person, the CO2 produced is only about 20 tCO2 for 18,000 attendees video-streaming for a week-long conference — less than 0.1% of the emissions caused by an in-person conference.

The pandemic has forced us to explore virtual conferencing for over a year now. Some aspects of it work well, others do not. Finding a new way of conferencing after COVID-19 that includes the best of both worlds will not be easy, but the urgency to decarbonize science and to open up conferencing to those that have previously struggled to attend are very good reasons to rethink our intractable practices. For more discussions why and how we can decarbonize conference travel please read: M Klöwer, D Hopkins, MR Allen and J Higham, 2020. An analysis of way to decarbonise conference travel after COVID-19. Nature 583, 356-359.

More GreenEGU ideas