Alexandre de Juniac is a worried man. He’s head of the International Air Transport Association. And it’s not just the downturn in the global economy that’s got him worried. It’s the “flight shame” movement, which started in Sweden where it’s called flygskam, which De Juniac describes as the biggest threat to the airline industry in Europe.
De Juniac predicts that the movement will spread, to the US, and Asian countries like Korea and Japan:
“If you believe or think that the environmental concern is a world concern touching everyone on the planet … there’s no reason to believe that other young people won’t react.”
Predictably enough, for the head of an organisation that exists to lobby on behalf of the aviation industry, de Juniac is in denial about aviation’s impact on the climate crisis. If the aviation industry were a country, it would be the sixth largest in the world, between Japan and Germany. And IATA expects the number of people flying to double by 2037.
De Juniac claims that the aviation industry’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) will cap emissions from 2020.
That’s just not true.
A cap would (at least in theory) set a limit on emissions – a limit that would reduce each year.
Instead of a cap, CORSIA will allow emissions from the aviation to continue to expand. The expansion can clearly be seen in this graphic produced by the excessively aviation-friendly Environmental Defense Fund:
By 2040, EDF anticipates an “emissions gap” of 7.8 billion tonnes for the aviation industry. EDF isn’t particularly worried because US$6-8 billion a year is a huge number of carbon offsets. And EDF just loves carbon offsets.
‘Flight Shame’ and carbon offsets
Inevitably, the carbon traders are jumping on the bandwagon of the “flight shame” movement. An August 2019 Bloomberg article explains:
Campaigning by climate activist Greta Thunberg and filmmaker-naturalist David Attenborough is persuading pollution-conscious fliers to try and mitigate the environmental damage caused by their flights.
Sales of so-called carbon offsets are soaring: Myclimate, a Swiss nonprofit whose clients include Deutsche Lufthansa AG, reported a five-fold uptake in its credits in a year. At Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s largest discount carrier, the number of customers making voluntary offset payments has almost doubled in 18 months.
This morning I received an email with the subject, “The ‘Flight Shame’ Movement”. It came from a company called the Carbon Trade Exchange:
The email is aimed at recruiting new members for the Carbon Trade Exchange, and is an advertisement for the Aviation Carbon 2019 industry conference:
Aviation Carbon has taken place every year since 2012. It claims to have “become widely recognised as the leading international event specialising in market-based measures to address carbon emissions from aviation, such as CORSIA and the EU ETS”.
Carbon Trade Exchange is one of the sponsors of Aviation Carbon 2019, along with its parent company Global Environmental Markets, which is registered in the tax haven of Mauritius.
The aviation industry is fully aware that carbon offsets are not a solution to runaway climate change. But the industry is not interested in genuine solutions. Instead, one of the items on the agenda at Aviation Carbon 2019 asks, “Carbon offsetting: what can be done to counter environmental criticisms and improve its public image?”
Of course offsets don’t just suffer from a “public image” problem. The role of offsets is to allow emissions from burning fossil fuels to continue, which is precisely why the aviation industry is so keen on them.
Flying results in greenhouse gas emissions now. The CO2 from these emissions can stay in the atmosphere for decades. A genuine carbon offset would mean guaranteeing that the emissions reductions from the offsetting project are not reversed for as long as the CO2 is in the atmosphere. Obviously, guaranteeing the future is impossible.
Given the severity of the climate crisis, we urgently need to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels, not pretend it’s possible, justifiable, or ethical to offset them.
And no amount of PR work on the “public image” of offsets is going to solve that problem.