Flight Emission Calculators: A Review

Last year I decided to compare the carbon emissions of a ferry-rail journey to a flight, from Ireland to the UK. The research took a lot longer than I anticipated; it turns out that the internet is full of aged, blunt, biased, or limited carbon-emission calculators, which gave answers ranging from 41kg to 900kg for the same flight. ! Here’s 5 I reviewed… read on to find out the best one!

For each calculator I used the example of a flight from Dublin Airport to Leeds-Bradford, a distance of 357km.

1. The Guardian – Quick Carbon Calculator

– really well-designed, has an infographic displaying results

– old. I suspect (and pray) the estimate was pretty far off.

– more for general lifestyle than strict travel-mode comparison.

ESTIMATE: it told me 1 shorthaul return trip would emit 900 kg of CO2.

2. www.RESURGENCE.org

– gives the opportunity for a precise breakdown of household fuel usage and travel.

– does not seem to be accurate on carbon emissions for flights.

ESTIMATE: its estimate for a 400 mile short-haul flight, one-way, was 173kg.


– has a flight function

– allows you to put in 3-letter IATA code instead of airport

– has option to include radiative forcing*

– stable and fast, gave answer of 50 kg

– also has calculators for house, motorbike, car, bus and rail, and ‘secondary’ emissions (food etc.)

– Personally I don’t like the text screaming at you to pay for offset.

ESTIMATE: it gave me an answer of 50 kg

4. International Civil Aviation Organisation

– stable and fast

– to me, a clueless consumer, this seemed to be the second-most accurate calculator.

– not very beautiful

– flight only

ESTIMATE: I was given result of 41kg

5. Atmosfair

– includes flight distance

– has an option for aircraft type or automagically shows the airlines who service that route

– knows the aircraft used by particular airlines, and uses that info in the calculation

– Aso from text accompanying result I assume it includes winglets (which has an impact on emissions) and CEP (climate efficiency points – which I know nothing about) in its calculations

– can’t find a single flaw. !

ESTIMATE: this calculator gave 2 results, depending on which air carrier I chose to fly with. Ryanair = 46kg, Aer Lingus = 110kg.

Conclusion: to a clueless consumer, Atmosfair seems by far the best flight emissions calculator. The consumer can tweak many knobs when inputting data, plus their documentation is published on-site; this gives me the impression of a rigorous research foundation. I’m really impressed, and I’ll be using this service from now on.

*Carbon emissions from planes at high altitude have an increased effect on global warming. Some calculators allow you to multiply aviation emissions by DEFRA‘s recommended Radiative Forcing factor of 1.891