When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in late winter 2020, borders closed and the frequency of air travel dropped drastically. But today, with the lifting of most sanitary measures, planes are once again taking to the skies… and starting to warm the atmosphere again.
However, a precedent could shake the aviation industry. At the end of May, a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against KLM Royal Dutch Airlines based on fraudulent information related to carbon offsets. The groups claim that KLM’s advertising campaigns give travelers the false impression that for an additional cost, they will be able to “offset” their emissions. According to them, KLM’s advertising strategy constitutes a blatant case of greenwashing on several levels.
First, much of the CO2 emitted in flight can remain in the atmosphere for several thousand years. On the other hand, “compensation” solutions, such as planting trees and capturing CO2, take time to act and are often temporary. Secondly, companies often appropriate already existing projects, which would have been carried out anyway. We are then dealing with the equivalent of an accounting trick that allows them to get rich while continuing to pollute.
While we risk exceeding the threshold of 1.5°C warming within five years, greenwashing is a hoax that we hear denounced everywhere where it occurs.
Aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of CO emissions2 world. If we include the production and distribution of kerosene, this figure rises to 3%. In addition, planes emit soot (which blackens the ice floes) and other noxious gases. They generate contrails in large numbers: these artificial cirrus clouds eventually dissipate, but in the meantime, they trap heat.
Ultimately, air transport accounts for no less than 5% to 6% of the warming linked to all human activities.
Airlines, including Air Canada, know that citizens are increasingly aware of the need to stop this dangerous warming. So they resort to all kinds of marketing strategies to make us believe that we can steal our souls in peace. On April 22, for example, Air Canada took advantage of Earth Day to announce a new measure in its “Leave Less” program. It will therefore add so-called “sustainable” aviation fuel (CAD) to the tanks of its planes… for four of its flights (the press release obviously ignored the fact that Air Canada performs around 1,500 flights a day).
Despite the fact that this famous CAD is essentially produced from non-fossil materials, such as vegetable oil or animal fat, its industrial scale production is far from being “sustainable”. Indeed, it still depends heavily on fossil fuels, for the production of artificial fertilizers in particular, and therefore leads to massive emissions.
Palm biodiesel, for example, can generate twice the emissions of fossil fuels. Therefore, given the intensity of biofuel emissions and the current food crisis, crops should be used to feed people, not to power planes.
Meanwhile, the aviation industry is booming. From 2010 to 2019, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from global aviation increased by 3.4% per year. It is expected that worldwide, the number of passengers will have tripled between 2000 and 2050. In Quebec alone, emissions from domestic flights have increased by almost 25% between 2015 and 2019. Despite this, the Quebec government has just launched its plan to subsidy of air transport to reduce the cost of regional flights.
The aviation industry only pretends to be fighting the climate crisis. The world is at a turning point. We no longer have time for false partial solutions such as carbon offsets and “sustainable” fuels. It is time to immediately move to real and large-scale actions. This means a massive reduction in the number of flights.