How much carbon will your domestic holiday emit?

Your holiday to Hawaii may be off. But how many carbon miles will a foray to Fiordland burn up?

20sep carbon miles hero

If there’s any upside to Covid-19, you might think it’s the drop in carbon emissions as international travel plans have been put on ice and planes grounded. But don’t celebrate the end of the climate crisis just yet.

While global emissions are expected to fall between four and seven percent for 2020, the lockdown hasn’t made any difference to overall trends.

Latest figures published by the World Meteorological Organization show greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at an all-time high and we’re set to see the warmest five years on record.

So while your trip to the UK may not be happening anytime soon, what about that flight from Auckland to Queenstown for your whānau of four? Add another 2000kg of emissions to your household’s carbon footprint.

Carbon miles

If you’re feeling the flygskam – the Swedish buzzword for flight shame – and want to get around the country with a cleaner carbon conscience, it’s harder than it should be.

Convenient and low-carbon travel options aren’t routinely on offer. Hoping to embrace the joys of slow travel and take the train from Auckland to Wellington? You’ll find it runs just three times a week in each direction.

Getting on a plane or driving may be the only realistic choice for getting from A(karoa) to B(rightwater).

Carbon estimates provided by Toitū Envirocare, an offshoot of Landcare Research, suggest flying may not always be the worst of the two options, if it gets you to your destination over a shorter distance than travelling by car.

However, it also matters what you drive: a 1500cc sedan is a better bet than the 2500cc SUV. An electric car will beat them both.

Emissions compared

We compared emissions for trips to six domestic destinations, travelling by plane, car and bus.

Transport emissions

Transport emissions

20sep carbon miles promotion

Transport emissions

Transport makes up 20 percent of the country’s gross greenhouse gas emissions. Most come from road transport, with domestic aviation accounting for about six percent, according to figures published by the Productivity Commission.

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Member comments

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Paul D.
04 Oct 2020
? misleading

Not clear whether this is per person (for the flight) or per vehicle (for the car)?
If it's not all per vehicle then grossly misleading for a couple or family.

Paul Drury

Consumer staff
05 Oct 2020
Re: ? misleading

Hi Paul,

The figures shown are per person. If you're travelling with more than one person in a car, you can divide the carbon emissions by the number of people in the vehicle to get the emissions per person.

Kind regards,
Frank - Consumer NZ staff

Elizabeth M.
04 Oct 2020
Where is rail?

How does rail compare?

R J & A D.
03 Oct 2020
Where are the hybrids?

Hybrid vehicles are now a significant portion of the NZ fleet, so should be included in the table. Ideally, the table should include the equivalent hybrid for each of the three non-electric car/SUV classes.


03 Oct 2020

I agree totally. I changed to a hybrid this year to do my bit for the climate. According to its specs, my 2500cc Hybrid would emit 130kg on a 992km return trip — admittedly a lot more than an electric car, but a lot less than regular engines. The lack of infrastructure for charging electric cars was a big factor in my decision as well as battery disposal issues.