From staying home to staying close

Umwelt, Energie & Verkehr

This summer, the forausblog has teamed up with students from the Master’s course “Law of Sustainable Development” taught by Charlotte Sieber-Gasser at the University of Lucerne. Students were asked to come up with their very own ideas for policy measures that would render the presence of humankind on this planet more intra- and inter-generationally just. The policy measures have to work towards achieving one particular UN Sustainable Development Goal and need to be in line with international law. The best original policy measures were selected by Charlotte Sieber-Gasser and published by the forausblog.

Abstract: Coming out of this pandemic, the Swiss government should use our new gained appreciation of close-by travel in order to curb CO2-Emissions through air travel. A short appeal to reutilize what we have experienced over the last 18 months.

The COVID pandemic has had an unforeseen impact on the aviation branch and even though traveling has since picked back up again, it has yet to bounce back to 2019 conditions. The impact of the decreasing air travel on global CO2-emissions has shown to be evident while at the same time proving that our societies seem to be able to function with far less air travel. This presents a unique and important opportunity; probably one of a lifetime.

According to the Max-Planck-Institut, the emissions of greenhouse gasses have been reduced so drastically during 2020 that this is visible in our atmosphere. The CarbonBrief breaks the numbers down and states that global CO2-emissions have gone down 7% compared to 2019. Emissions from aviation have seen a reduction of 75% in April 2020 (peak of lockdowns). The Swiss Federal Statistical Office has published the numbers of flights departing from Switzerland in 2020, which have been reduced 71% compared to 2019 in total. Even though these numbers are encouraging, scientists are not optimistic that these impressive reductions in CO2-emissions will achieve national and international goals of greenhouse emission. In fact, the big fear is that emissions will shoot up through a rebound effect. So, if there ever was a time to nudge our nation toward a more sustainable approach to traveling, it is now.

Since our habit of traveling around the world for leisure has been interrupted due to the pandemic, we now have the unique opportunity not to have to change our behavior to live a more sustainable lifestyle. We just have to resume the habits we developed during the pandemic. The break in habit we experienced could be an exceptional opportunity for a change that is especially important in Switzerland. Even though we have a rather small population, the Swiss have been traveling by plane twice as often as our neighboring countries. It is high time that we use an effective way to communicate values to citizens without fundamentally altering their freedom of choice: nudging by campaigning. “Staying home” may have been the slogan of the pandemic, but “staying close” should be our next slogan to live by.

The Swiss government has launched successful nudging campaigns before. Exemplary is the Covid Vaccine Campaign, which also appeals to our sense of aiding the greater good. In addition to preexisting knowledge of successful campaigning, there are also several established campaigns of other institutions that promote a similar cause as the “staying close” campaign would. The City of Zürich has launched a campaign Mehr Zürich – weniger CO2” and MySwitzerland has specific Youtube-commercials to promote Swiss cities. The City of Malmö has gone even further and developed the campaign Make it Malmö in collaboration with Influencers, bus and ferry operators. Such preexisting experience and exemplary campaigns can be utilized to quickly develop the “staying close”-campaign.

In addition to appealing to the broad public, a similar campaign should be made concerning business travel, as it is responsible for most emissions due to aviation. The concept here is pretty straight-forward: Companies have already established procedures that don’t require traveling during the pandemic. If they stick to their new routines, they benefit financially. The business world has recognized this and a decrease in business related travel is expected already. Promotion as well as support for such structural changes by the government could send an important message.

Always hoping that our efforts lead towards a more sustainable coexistence with our planet, I‘m looking forward to hearing all about your summer, staying close.


Image credits: Joel Steinman on Unsplash.