Year: 2019

Authors: Maria Wolrath Söderberg and Nina Wormbs

Flygskam. This Swedish word translates as “flight shame” and has spread across the world. The term refers to feeling guilt over the environmental effects of flying and is symbolic to a movement in which an increasing amount of Swedes are choosing not to fly. However, it is not just Swedes who feel guilty about their carbon footprints: the Finnish have invented lentohapea, the Dutch say vliegschaamte, and the Germans use flugscham.

The contribution to European carbon emissions from air travel is growing, and has become an increasingly important climate issue. Emissions per passenger have dropped in the past decade due to more fuel-efficient aircraft, but global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70 per cent higher in 2020 than in 2005. Estimates show that emissions from global flying can be as high as 22 per cent of total emissions in 2050 if the sector fails to reverse the trend. This stands in conflict with the Paris Agreement and its goal of ensuring global warming is kept well below 2 degrees Celsius. In fact, the total per capita emissions needed to achieve the targets set in the Paris Agreement, which according to the 2018 IPCC-report, is less than 3-4 tonnes by 2030 and 1 tonne 2050. As a Brussels–Stockholm return flight emits 0.42 tonnes and a Brussels to New York return journey emits 1.9 tonnes, flights are clearly a large part of an individual’s emissions.

Yet, a reduction in flying is a challenge to the liberal idea of free movement. A high degree of mobility has long been important to the European idea and is a vital part of the integration of the union. However, if this mobility creates climate change and affects future generations, it can also be said to infringe on the freedom of others. Although this case study focuses on Sweden, and a self-selected group among Swedes, it will still be of interest to a wider European audience since the word and phenomenom flygskam has spread to other countries.

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