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  • Photo on unfccc.int
  • Photo on unfccc.int

Airlines are among the largest producers of CO2 emissions. If production cannot be avoided, you can at least buy yourself a better conscience. I will explain how this works.

The evil CO2 emissions

The 25th World Climate Conference took place in Madrid. One of the dominant topics was once again CO2 emissions, which despite all warnings are reaching a new record high. On the sidelines of the conference, the international research association Global Carbon Project forecast an increase of 0.6 percent for 2019. Although this is a smaller increase than in the previous two years, it is still too much to limit global warming.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has investigated how much CO2 commercial aviation emitted in 2018. In total, commercial aviation emitted 918 million tonnes of CO2 last year. This corresponds to 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions. For example, Germany emitted almost 800 million tonnes of greenhouse gas in 2017, adding up all CO2 sources. Most of the carbon dioxide emitted by air traffic, 81 percent, was accounted for by passenger aircraft, the rest by freight traffic.

“Greenwashing”

Air traffic causes direct CO2 emissions on the one hand, and nitrogen oxides and water vapor in high air layers on the other. For example, nitrogen oxides from the gases ozone and methane, which cause the temperature to rise via the greenhouse effect. When it comes to the climate-damaging impact of air traffic, it is therefore not enough just to ask about its direct CO2 emissions – the additional greenhouse gases also play an important role. For this reason, CO2 calculators for air travel contain more factors than just CO2 emissions and multiply the CO2 emissions of the aircraft by a factor of 2.7 (RFI – Radiative Forcing Index) to display the actual total emissions. The German Environment Agency suggested already in 2008, multiply by a factor of 3 or even 5. If you are interested, there are numerous online providers to determine your emissions, like myclimate, atmosfair or ICAO.

Most airlines offer the opportunity to offset CO2 emissions on their booking portals. This is done on a monetary basis by adding the compensation payment to the price and then feeding it into a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM ) project. This procedure is known as “greenwashing”. It is noticeable that most airlines calculate a significantly lower compensation value. One could assume that they only use pure CO2 emissions as a reference value.

“The world’s first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights”

Just in time for the World Climate Conference and in time for the current discussion, the airline EasyJet presented this headline on its homepage on 19 November 2019: “easy jet to become the world’s first airline to operate net-zero carbon flights”. I call this an unprecedented and welcome step in the absolutely right direction! From now on EasyJet no longer offers its customers to add the ecological compensation payment to the price, the airline pays this surcharge out of its own pocket.

 

To achieve this, the airline does not invest the surcharge in individual projects every time a flight is booked. No, EasyJet buys certificates, so-called carbon credits, the price of which is then invested in a CDM project. This is the basis on which European Union Emission Trading works. Leading providers on the European market, such as myclimate or atmosfair, charge 23 euros per tonne of CO2 emitted. According to its own statement, EasyJet is investing 25 million British pounds (approx. 29 million euros) in CO2 offsetting, i.e. the purchase of certificates, in the current fiscal year. With around 8.5 million tonnes of pure CO2 emissions, this corresponds to a price of 3.50 euros per tonne. This does not include the other greenhouse gases.

Formally the naming “Net Zero Carbon Flights” is correct, but without the background knowledge, it is at least misleading. Be it as it may, on average you get 0.30 Euro per passenger and flight, which EasyJet pays for the emission compensation. Is that enough to wash your conscience green?