You can now fly to Hawaii for under $500. Black and white pictures developed at the photo store of summer holidays at the beach have been replaced by smartphone selfies of travels abroad.

Aotearoa is no longer a tiny island at the end of the earth so far from reach to the rest of the world.

Air New Zealand operated about 188,000 flights last year, with its customers collectively flying 29.85 billion kilometres.

The customer who clocked up the most miles was an Aucklander who flew 639,000 kilometres – the equivalent to 15 circuits of the Earth.


Its most frequent flyer took 371 flights, and the top three travellers together clocked up 1.25 million kilometres in the air, earning more than 31,000 Airpoints Dollars between them.

But our addiction to travel has huge environmental costs: the aviation industry emits 2 to 3 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, if aviation were a country, it would be the sixth largest polluter in the world.

But there are signs that, like Veganuary and Plastic-free July, pledges to give up flying are gaining traction.

You can now fly to Hawaii for under $500. Photo / Grant Bradley
You can now fly to Hawaii for under $500. Photo / Grant Bradley

Two climate conscious Swedish mothers, Maja Rosen and Lotta Hammar, have already convinced 14,500 people to refuse air travel in 2019 with their social media campaign No-Fly 2019 (Flygfritt 2019).

Swedish railway company SJ is feeling the effects of the movement. On some routes, the company has reported bookings have risen by more than 100 per cent.

The UK Flight Free campaign is also looking to convince 100,000 people to go fly-free in 2020 and in New Zealand, there is a small group on Facebook called Fly-less Kiwis which advocates for the same thing.

Lotta Hammar of Sweden is the co-founder of the Fligfritt 2019 (No FLy 2019) social media campaign. Photo / Facebook
Lotta Hammar of Sweden is the co-founder of the Fligfritt 2019 (No FLy 2019) social media campaign. Photo / Facebook

University of Auckland physicist and science commentator Professor Shaun Hendy this year has set a goal to cut his travel emissions by 30 per cent from 2017.

Last year, he successfully completed his #nofly2018 one-man campaign to only travel by road or water.

Professor Shaun Hendy. Photo / Greg Bowker
Professor Shaun Hendy. Photo / Greg Bowker

In 2017 he had flown 84,000 kilometres, emitting about 19 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

His drive was a speech by colleague Professor Quentin Atkinson, which got him thinking about how scientists tell people the world is warming yet the typical scientist has a much bigger carbon footprint than the average person because of the travel they do.

Even conservationists take on average nine flights a year, dwarfing their other green efforts, according to a study led by Cambridge University. A contradiction which was particularly jarring at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos in January, where an estimated 1500 private jets were flown to the event – despite one of the key objectives being to address the growing issue of climate change.

This year, Hendy, who works closely with the Government on a range of projects, has been taking trains, buses, and ferries where he can, but has flown occasionally.

Majar Rosen, co-founder of Fligfritt 2019 ( No FLy 2019 ). Photo / Facebook
Majar Rosen, co-founder of Fligfritt 2019 ( No FLy 2019 ). Photo / Facebook

On a recent multi-city trip, Hendy took a train from Auckland to Wellington again, flew to Dunedin and then to Nelson, before taking a bus, ferry, and train back to Auckland.

Professor Hendy wants to see airfares priced to include the cost of carbon emissions.

"This will put pressure on airlines to introduce routes and technology that reduce emissions."

To encourage others to cut down, the obvious answer is more investment is needed in public transport, he says.

"The train from Auckland to Wellington only runs three days out of seven, takes 11 hours, and doesn't even have cellphone coverage for most of the trip.

"We have been improving public transport within cities, particularly Auckland, in the last few years, but there are still few carbon friendly travel options between cities. To meet our 2050 goal we will have to radically improve this, moving people from planes and cars onto trains and buses."

The goal Hendy is referring to is the Government's aim to be zero carbon by 2050, coupled with the Green Party's Zero Carbon Bill, an industry-wide framework which will put in legislation targets to help reach that goal.

Carbon neutrality can be achieved by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal or carbon offsetting - like forest planting - or by eliminating carbon emissions altogether.

Carbon dioxide is the most significant long-lived greenhouse gas in Earth's atmosphere. Emissions – primarily from use of fossil fuels and deforestation – have rapidly increased its concentration in the atmosphere, leading to global warming.

In 2018, domestic and international flights globally emitted about 895m tonnes of carbon dioxide, equal to 2.4 percent of global energy-related emissions. That has grown by 26 per cent since 2013.

One of New Zealand's biggest carbon emitters is Air NZ - 3.5 million tonnes last year, an increase of three per cent.

Climate Change Minister and Green Party leader James Shaw tells the Weekend Herald the party is preparing to present its bill to Parliament soon.

"It will be passed, as planned, this year.

"We are just in the process of putting finishing touches on some finer details and can't comment further on that."

The Government received 15,000 submissions during a six-week consultation last year.

But in terms of aviation, the bill is not likely to include specific targets for sectors, Shaw says.

New Zealand will be participating in the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) from when it begins on January 1, 2021.

The scheme was agreed by 192 countries in 2016 through the United Nation's aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Its goal is to make all growth in international flights after 2020 carbon neutral. Airlines will have to buy emission reduction offsets from other sectors to compensate for any increase in their own emissions.

Air NZ runs an offset scheme, FlyNeutral, in which customers can choose to pay extra to offset their emissions. Last year, 27,000 tonnes of carbon was voluntarily offset by customers and 8700 tonnes from employee business travel.

Government ministers - some of the biggest air travellers - also contribute to the scheme, says Shaw.

Eighty-three per cent of ministerial air travel in 2016 and 2017 was with Air NZ, or affiliated partners, followed by 96 per cent the following year.

Green Party MPs voluntarily offset their air travel through a scheme run outside Parliament and managed by the Green Party.

Other MPs' travel, which is part of the official Office of the Clerk Inter-parliamentary relations travel programme, is offset too as agreed on after Shaw wrote to the Clerk last year.

The Speaker has also asked Parliamentary Services to investigate how emissions off-set policy can be applied more broadly for all MPs' air or other travel.

Air NZ flew one of the aviation industry's first biofuel test flights in 2009.

A blend of 50:50 jatropha and Jet A1 fuel was used to power a Boeing 747-400's Rolls-Royce RB211 engine during a two-hour flight over the wider Hauraki Gulf area.

In its submission to the Zero Carbon Bill, Nick Judd, Air NZ's chief strategy, networks and alliance officer, said there are no large-scale commercially available alternatives to aviation jet fuel.

"Until aviation biofuels are readily available in New Zealand and/or electric aircraft
technology developed for commercial use, Air New Zealand is unlikely to deliver further significant domestic carbon emissions savings through its own operations.

"To achieve lower overall net emissions now and in the near-term, Air New Zealand will need to purchase carbon units (including forestry) and invest in projects that can generate emissions savings.

"To date, aviation biofuel supply only occurs in overseas jurisdictions where state and federal government policy incentives are in place to ensure that production is more competitive with fossil fuel."

The company welcomed dialogue with the Government regarding policies within the aviation sector and hoped to achieve the emissions budget together by exploring incentives like tax credits for research and development and incentives for investment.

It also supported more efficient flight paths into New Zealand airports - although didn't specify what these were - and development of electric charging infrastructure at airports.

A spokeswoman for Air NZ says the company saved 7300 tonnes of carbon by using electricity to power aircraft while at the gate.

In another effort to cut waste while on board, 16 million individual items, such as sealed beverages and unopened snacks, were recovered for reuse or recycling rather than going to landfill through the airline's Project Green initiative.

The airline also removed single-use plastic items from its aircraft and its lounges. The move is expected to save 260,000 plastic toothbrushes, 3000 straws, 7.1 million stirrers and 260,000 eye mask wrappers from landfill.

Air New Zealand operated around 188,000 flights last year
Air New Zealand operated around 188,000 flights last year

Auckland International Airport has developed an emissions management and reduction plan to reduce the amount of energy consumed on site by 20 per cent by 2020.

Steps include replacing air conditioning systems with the most efficient new technology, switching to LED lights equipped with smart controls that adjust the amount of lighting generated based on natural light levels and the number of people in an area like a gate lounge.

They are also installing solar panels on the roof of the international terminal and office buildings. They allow aircraft preparing for their next flight to turn off their onboard auxiliary power units which run on jet fuel and plug into low-carbon local electricity.

Stateside, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the US representative for New York's 14th congressional district, caused a stir with the release of her ambitious Green New Deal which aims to cut greenhouse gases to nearly zero.

It called for completely ditching fossil fuels, upgrading or replacing "every building" in the country and "totally overhaul transportation" to the point where "air travel stops becoming necessary".

She felt the wrath of President Donald Trump, who responded on Twitter with; "I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called 'Carbon Footprint' to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military - even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!"

At a rally in Texas, he said, "I really don't like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane rights, of 'let's hop a train to California', of you're not allowed to own cows any more!"

"It would shut down a little thing called air travel. How do you take a train to Europe?"

James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, plugs in New World Levin's electric van.
James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, plugs in New World Levin's electric van.

But if growing movements to boycott flying take hold, and Kiwis' appetite for far-flung adventures can be suppressed, perhaps jetting away a couple of times a year will be as frowned upon as using plastic bags.