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Potential for saving digitally

Online conferences reduce CO2 emissions drastically, but blended formats are also an environmentally-friendly alternative

Freiburg, Mar 02, 2021

Potential for saving digitally

Sebastian Jäckle's calculations illustrate that even fewer CO2 emissions are generated relative to the number of participants added to a conference online. Source: Sebastian Jäckle

In times of coronavirus online meetings and online conferences are no longer a rarity, including for scientists. Dr. Sebastian Jäckle, political scientist at the University of Freiburg, has studied how much carbon dioxide (CO2) can be saved if academic conferences take place online. As his example Jäckle took the largest European political science conference, the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference, which in August 2020 took place virtually over three days instead of the normal conference that was planned. Jäckle’s results show that the CO2 footprint of the virtual conference was only around 0.5-1.0 per cent of what a gathering in person would have produced. The study has been published in the journal PS: Political Science & Politics.

In his calculation of the online conference’s footprint, the researcher included energy consumption emissions for all the users’ devices and for video and audio transfer of the virtual conference platform. Jäckle compared these figures with the CO2 output of travelling there and back, energy consumption and heating at hotels and the venue, and that of the catering that would have been involved in a conference that was attended in person. However, one finding of the study is also that switching to a completely virtual event is not absolutely necessary. According to Jäckle a blended form of online and attended ECPR conference could also significantly reduce the CO2 footprint: if one quarter of the participants joined in online, especially those from farther afield, a reduction of emissions by up to 71 per cent is possible. “Furthermore, if the other three quarters of the participants would undertake longer journey times using the bus or train, a hybrid conference could even reduce emissions in comparison to a normal conference by 89 per cent,” says Jäckle. Another option could be only to hold physically-attended conferences every other year.

Sebastian Jäckle is hoping his research will once again draw attention to the need to approach research trips thoughtfully. Back in 2019 he determined the level of CO2 emissions for all participants travelling to and from the previous six ECPR conferences. According to his calculations, each visitor produces on average 0.5-1.5 tons CO2 equivalent over the course of a three-day conference. In order to achieve the goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees to protect the climate, every one of us in the world must only emit 2.5 tons CO2 equivalent annually by 2030. Then as now, the researcher called for the introduction of hybrid forms of conference and a choice of venue that is well-connected by rail.

Original publication:
Jäckle, Sebastian (2021): Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Academic Conferences by Online Participation: The Case of the 2020 Virtual European Consortium for Political Research General Conference. In: PS: Political Science & Politics. DOI: 10.1017/S1049096521000020


Dr. Sebastian Jäckle
Department of Political Science
University of Freiburg
Tel. +49 761 203-9368


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Source: Sebastian Jäckle