Abstract: Residents of urban areas, and particularly urban cores, have higher levels of long-distance travel activity and related emissions, mostly on account of greater frequency of air travel. This relationship typically remains after controlling for basic socio-economic correlates of long-distance travel. There is an ongoing debate in the literature about what causes this association, and whether it calls into question urban densification strategies. Understanding this is important from a climate policy perspective. In this article, we investigate the role of three factors: i) access to airports; ii) the concentration of people with migration background and/or geographically dispersed social networks in urban areas; and iii) greater air travel by urban residents without cars (‘rebound effect’). We use representative survey data for the UK including information on respondents’ air travel frequency for private purposes and derive estimates of greenhouse gas emissions. The dataset also includes detailed information on migration generation, residential location of close family and friends, car ownership and use, as well as low-level geographical identifiers. The findings of regression analysis show that Greater London residents stand out in terms of emissions from air travel. Airport accessibility, migration background, and dispersion of social networks each explain part of this association, whereas we find no evidence of a rebound effect. However, proximity to town centres remains associated with higher emissions after accounting for these issues, indicating that this association is due to other factors than those considered here. We conclude by discussing implications for urban and climate policy, as well as future research.
Keywords: airport accessibility; air travel; greenhouse gas emissions; long-distance travel; migrants; rebound effect; social networks; travel behaviour; visiting friends and relatives