Reducing Carbon Emissions: Are Climate Researchers Walking the Talk?

carbon emissions

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Climate researchers frequently stress the importance of reducing carbon emissions as a collective responsibility. However, how effective are they in minimizing their carbon footprint?

Study Highlights High Carbon Footprints Among Researchers

A collaborative study by Lund University in Sweden and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland reveals that some researchers use up half their annual carbon allowance in a single week. Published in Limnology and Oceanography Letters, this study highlights ways to reduce these emissions.

Conference Emissions Under Scrutiny

Researchers analyzed the emissions of delegates at an annual international water conference from 2004 to 2023. This conference, attracting an average of 1,500 attendees, has been held in locations like Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Majorca.

Significant Carbon Emissions Per Delegate

The average emissions per delegate for each conference amounted to 1.3 metric tons of CO2. This is a significant portion of the annual emissions per person needed to meet the Paris Agreement targets: 2.3 metric tons by 2030 and 1.4 metric tons by 2040.

“Conference delegates burn more than half of their annual CO2 budget in a week. The carbon dioxide generated by delegates at these events is a significant issue that often goes unaddressed,” states Emma Kritzberg, professor of biology at Lund University.

Beyond Superficial Measures

Kritzberg argues that addressing carbon emissions from conferences requires more than superficial actions, like offering vegetarian food. The research community should implement practical solutions to reduce travel distances.

“Three years of virtual conferences have shown they cannot fully replace physical meetings. The challenge is to find solutions that maintain some physical attendance while being carbon-efficient,” says Marie Elodie Perga, Professor at the University of Lausanne and lead author of the study.

Academia’s Role in Leading by Example

Taking serious steps to reduce emissions enhances academia’s credibility and can inspire other high-emission organizations.

Conference participants deeply understand climate change and its impact on aquatic systems. About 50% of the presentations focus on climate change, emphasizing the need for actionable knowledge,” notes Kritzberg.

The Paris Agreement Goals

The Paris Agreement, effective since 2016, aims to limit global temperature rise and support those affected by climate change. It targets keeping the global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius, aiming for a 1.5-degree limit by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Practical Solutions for Reducing Emissions

The study suggests several ways to cut CO2 emissions from scientific conferences significantly. Effective initiatives should target high-impact areas. For instance, simply serving vegetarian food or using electric transport locally has minimal impact compared to the total emissions.

Multihubbing, or holding parallel conferences in several locations, could reduce the carbon footprint to a third. This approach, especially in North America, central Europe, and Asia, minimizes travel distances. Avoiding conferences on islands like Majorca, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico would also help,” concludes Kritzberg.


Climate researchers play a crucial role in advocating for reduced carbon emissions. However, they must also take significant steps to minimize their carbon footprints, particularly when attending international conferences. By adopting practical solutions like multihubbing and choosing locations that require less travel, the scientific community can lead by example and significantly reduce its environmental impact.

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