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The Paris Climate Talks Will Emit 300,000 Tons of CO2, by Our Math. Hope It’s Worth It


The 2015 Paris talks (formally known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties and the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol—but let’s just call it the Paris talks) are going to draw about 22,000 official attendees.

Official means negotiators, delegates, diplomats, and aides from 195 countries. That does not include the NGOs, businesses, activists, high school students, and many, many journalists (including me) who will be there to influence, capitalize on, or catalog the two week event. Playing it conservative, total attendance will land around 50,000 people.

Those 50,000 people will come from as far as Auckland, New Zealand and as near as Paris itself. If you add up all the Bangkoks, Bermudas, Cape Towns, Sydneys, Santiagos, Samoas, Jakartas, Singapores, and Stockholms in between, the average distance per traveler is about 9,000 miles, round trip.

Those people will arrive on trains, cars, but mostly airplanes. When flown at full capacity (and the airline industry being what it is, and the Paris meetings being what they are, there’s little reason to think the planes will be anything but packed), a Boeing 747 (a happy medium between private jets and bullet trains) gets about 16.5 miles per gallon of jet fuel. Between 50,000 attendees, that’s about 27 million gallons of the stuff.

When burned, every one of those 27 million gallons of jet fuel releases about 21 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Added up, all those planes flying to the Paris climate talks will release about 575 million pounds of CO2.

Alone, that looks like a really big number. Compared to the entire world, which produces about 80 quadrillion pounds of CO2 each year, it’s not much. In fact, all the travel for all the people to and from Paris equals about 22 seconds of global CO2 emissions. Add in two weeks of hotels, taxis, espressos, pastries, and wine toasts, and you can probably tack on another half second or so.