International travel

Global air travel has almost doubled in ten years, from 2.2 billion passengers per year in 2008 to 4.2 billion in 2018. Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has particularly high aviation carbon dioxide emissions per capita, accounting for 4% of global emissions from flights. Flying is particularly damaging to the environment because emissions at high altitudes from burning jet fuel and from soot and water vapour have a greater environmental impact than emissions at ground level. 

As a global university, we attract students and staff from around the world and our academics travel for international conferences and meetings, as well as to conduct research, all of which generates demand for more flights. International flights are currently core to our business model. We need to reduce flights and address emissions from aviation. 

The climate impact of air travel is very significant. Flying is the mode of travel with the highest environmental impact, and annual emissions from flying on University business are estimated at around half the carbon produced by all buildings on our estate - 30,000 per tonne of carbon equivalent (tCO2e is a standard unit for counting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the basis of their global warming potential).    

The University approved a Travel Policy on 24 May 2022, which has been implemented from 1 August 2022. While the University recognises that some travel is necessary for learning, teaching, and research, this policy aims to reduce the environmental impact of travel.  

Measures we are taking to address the impact of travel include:  

  • annually reporting flight emissions from University business travel, so that these can be tracked and monitored 
  • charging a flight levy on University business travel 
  • encouraging a shift from flights to rail where possible 
  • encouraging virtual alternatives to travel 
  • supporting investment in digital technology to help reduce the need for travel
  • eliminating 20% of flights by 2024/25
  • engaging with staff and students on travel  

Money raised through the flight levy is allocated to the Oxford Sustainability Fund to finance the implementation of the Environmental Sustainability Strategy. We will use offsetting from 2034 onwards to offset the University’s residual carbon emissions and biodiversity impact and achieve the strategy’s 2035 targets. This approach of prioritising reducing emissions to minimise offsetting is in line with the Oxford Offsetting Principles.