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The Airline Industry Is Greenwashing Its Reaction To Climate Crisis

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In the EU, the discussion started to bring all flights departing from EU airfields under the ETS (Emission Trading System), the EU-wide carbon tax on CO2 produced by industries. Currently, only the airline industry’s flights departing to a destination within the EU are under the ETS system. By bringing all departing flights under the system, the far more polluting long distance flights are going to pay their fair share.

This is met by strong opposition from the airline industry. They claim the UN ICAO (International Commercial Aviation Organization) is the body that should regulate this. They point to the ICAO greenwashing scheme framework to curb the growth of CO2 emissions by planes. This Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) set of voluntary rules will not have a measurable effect, even when strictly enforced by all 190 ICAO member states.

The European ETS tax is not high enough to discourage flying. It adds a few tens of euros to an inter-European flight. The CORSIA taxation could be, depending on the baseline, 1.6% to 5% of the not-very-effective EU taxation total. The EU taxation, when shown on the ticket, would at least show the traveler that there is an environmental price to traveling. The CORSIA taxation would be less than a rounding error.

The ICAO had its ministerial conference (general assembly) two months ago. It showed that it was not deaf to the complaints and problems. It established a bit tougher baseline, resulting in a CORSIA taxation of at least 2% of the EU ETS taxation. And a whopping 70 of the 190 member nations do intend to implement it. Large polluters like China and India are not among them.

A number of EU member states, represented in the EU Council, think that CORSIA is good enough. The Council, looking for the easy way out and a unanimous decision, has gone along with these members. The EU Parliament can and should correct this failure to bring long-haul flight to the “Polluter Pays (at least a tiny bit)” principle and force it into the ETS.

But the most important new regulation at the ICAO general assembly was the adjustment of its LTAG (Long Term Aspirational Goal). The ICAO’s new LTAG is to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Because planes are only able to fly using carbohydrate-based fuels, they are talking about a net-zero goal, offsetting the greenhouse gasses they directly inject into the greenhouse layer with CCUS and other technologies. I imagine they will start planting the Sahara Rainforest as a carbon sink. But I doubt that will be enough.

Aspirational goals are like dreams — very nice to have. I am now 68 and a bit disabled, but that does not withhold me from aspiring to compete in the decathlon at the next Olympic Games. I also aspire to build a mansion on the moon, but that goal is more long term.

What is the value of an aspirational goal by the airlines industry that will only be used in marketing? It is perhaps the most blatant, cynical greenwashing scheme I have seen in decades. It is on the level of the tobacco industry claiming smoking is healthy.

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Grumpy old man. The best thing I did with my life was raising two kids. Only finished primary education, but when you don’t go to school, you have lots of time to read. I switched from accounting to software development and ended my career as system integrator and architect. My 2007 boss got two electric Lotus Elise cars to show policymakers the future direction of energy and transportation. And I have been looking to replace my diesel cars with electric vehicles ever since. At the end of 2019 I succeeded, I replaced my Twingo diesel for a Zoe fully electric. And putting my money where my mouth is, I have bought Tesla shares. Intend to keep them until I can trade them for a Tesla car. I added some Fastned, because driving without charging is no fun.


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