Want to holiday to Europe by car? Consider your emissions first

How can anyone not look at these thousands of amassed cars and worry about the pollution?

Donnachadh McCarthy
Monday 15 August 2022 15:19 BST
The idea of spending hours in a hot stuffy car, in the middle of a heatwave, sounds like madness

Like lemmings off a climate cliff, dragging the rest of us with them. I was thinking this last week as I witnessed the recent wall to wall media coverage of the vast car queues at the ferry port in Dover. It followed similar endless media coverage of the chaos at our airports.

The idea of spending hours in a hot stuffy car, in the middle of a heatwave, waiting to board a ferry, strikes me as a bizarre form of torture to impose on oneself. But more than that, it really was frustrating to find not a single media commentator ever stopped to ask about the carbon emissions from this mass car stampede for the continent.

The planet is on fire all around us, how can anyone not look at the thousands of amassed cars and worry about the pollution and carbon emissions, just so they can have a short break? I felt like I was watching thousands of my fellow Britons take the side of the country’s enemies, aiding the destruction of Britain’s future.

So let us look at those emissions that all those broadcasters failed to examine.

Imagine a family of four travelling from the UK to Montpellier in the south of France. For comparison, on average their home would emit around 700kg/year of carbon emissions.


1,364 kg

Car + ferry 

640 kg

Car+ Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

344 kg

Eurostar + 4 passengers train

47 kg

Eurostar + 1 passenger train journey

12 kg           

Taking a car by return ferry from Dover to Calais emits about 300kg.

Taking a car by train-shuttle across the Channel emits about 4kg claims Eurotunnel Le Shuttle.

Then the drive from Calais to Montpellier in the south of France, is just over 1,000km. The average European car emits 161g of CO2 equivalent gases per km. This means the driving portion of the trip emits an additional 340kg for the round trip.

These are the comparative figures for trip from London to Dublin for a family of four:


628 kg

Car + ferry

380 kg

Train + 4-foot passengers

188 kg

Train + 1 foot passenger  

47 kg

Credit is due to Irish Ferries for their acknowledgement that the carbon footprint of transporting a car by their ferries is not insignificant. Indeed, it is about 7 times higher per kilometre than by driving the same distance. It is very refreshing to see such honesty rather than green-washing from a relatively high-carbon industry.

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The fact that a staggering 2.5 million cars are taken across the Channel each year, shows how such carbon destructiveness is not yet rightly stigmatised for being deeply anti-social.

The above calculations make clear that in the existential climate crisis that is now unfolding around us, until such time or if net zero car-ferries and planes are developed, it is simply immoral to be taking either a flight or a car by ferry merely for the sake of a fleeting holiday.

Thankfully there are plenty of better bicycle and foot-passenger holiday ferry and train options that are carbon affordable, as we pursue the urgent holy grail of getting all our personal carbon emissions down to as close to net zero as possible.

And as an added pleasant bonus, we can enjoy much more relaxed holiday trips, whether at home or abroad.

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