Lufthansa CEO Calls Out Flight Shamers As ‘Fake News’

At the recent IATA Wings of Change conference, CEO of Lufthansa Carsten Spohr called out flight shamers as peddling ‘fake news’. He pointed out how much good is being done in aviation, and how little its contribution to CO2 emissions really is. Here’s what happened.

Lufthansa flight shame
The Lufthansa CEO has called out flight shamers. Photo: Lufthansa

The aviation blame game

Flight shame and climate change are some of the hottest topics in the aviation world today. While the big green finger of blame is being firmly pointed at aviation, those in the know realize how misplaced this is.

During his keynote speech at the IATA Wings of Change conference in Berlin last week. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr was outspoken in his defense of the international aviation community. He said,

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“Airlines should not have to be seen as a symbol of climate change. That’s just fake news.

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“Our industry contributes 2.8% of global CO2 emissions. As I’ve asked before, how about the other 97.2%? Are they contributing to global society with as much good as we do? Are they reducing emissions as much as we do?”

CO2 by industry
Image: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2017)

The biggest emitter (of the 97.2%) by far is the energy industry. An IEA paper from earlier this year states that, rather than reducing emissions, the CO2 associated with the energy industry actually rose in 2018. In fact, the growth of 1.7%, which equated to 560 Mt, was equivalent to the total emissions from international aviation.

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So does that mean the aviation industry should not be doing anything and instead should wait for these mega-emitters to act? Spohr thinks not. He went on to say,

“Don’t get me wrong. This does not release us from the responsibility to act to drive down emissions, as we have done over the past 10 years. Now, there is just a little more rational discussion required of being healthy, for all of us around the world to deal with this important topic.”

Spohr went on to round off his talk with a rousing call for all involved in the industry to join together and bring back pride in aviation, and to work together for an “emissions-free future”.

Carsten Spohr
Carsten Spohr speaking at the IATA Wings of Change conference. Photo: IATA

Is it fake news?

Clearly, Mr. Spohr is not negating his responsibility to act on behalf of the environment. However, he does call out the finger-pointers and flight shamers as acting on ‘fake news’. It’s a bold statement for Spohr to make, but is there any truth in it?

Well, when the Guardian revealed, earlier this year, a list of the 20 firms responsible for a third of all carbon emissions, not one was an airline. In fact, according to UN figures as reported by Our World In Data, transport as a whole is responsible for a mere fraction of the total carbon output around the world. Energy is by far the worst, adding 20.33 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2010, compared to 5.53bn from transport, which includes road vehicles, shipping, rail and aviation.

The Carbon Brief discussed CO2 in the UK in a paper released in February this year. In it, they noted that emissions from rail and domestic shipping had remained ‘relatively flat’ since 1990. However, emissions from domestic aviation had declined by around 40% since 2005. A similar report from the same organization looking at US emissions noted that, in 1990, emissions per capita from aviation were just over 94 gallons. By 2016, this had reduced to 76.

IATA reports that civil aviation as a whole emits 859 million tons of CO2 per annum, which is roughly 2% of manmade CO2. This is a number which airlines are constantly working to reduce. Between 2009 and 2016, airlines reduce CO2 emissions by 10.2% worldwide, thanks to investments in modern aircraft and efficiencies of operation.

A320neo
Lufthansa is not alone in its investments in efficient aircraft. Photo: Lufthansa

Each new generation of aircraft is, on average, 20% more efficient than the models it replaces. Over the next 10 years, airlines will invest $1.3 trillion in new, more efficient aircraft. Although airlines are clearly committed to reducing their environmental impact, there’s a business case for it too. Each ton of CO2 an airline is able to avoid will save it $225. We’ll leave the last word to Mr. Spohr once again:

“We do not need to be ‘woken up’ to saving fuel. Fuel is 20 to 25% of our costs. We’ve been trying to drive costs down for years!”

What do you think? Is aviation the scapegoat for climate change, or do airlines need to do more to reduce their environmental impact? Let us know in the comments.

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Bryce

Excellent initiative by Mr. Spohr.
It won’t, of course, have any effect on the diehard environmental extremists, who will dismiss it as capitalist propaganda…but it might help to sway the opinion of rational “undecided voters”. One way or another, it provides a much-needed counter-voice to Greta Thunberg’s anti-aviation paranoia.

Sphere

I fully agree. Yes, the environment is very important, and yes, we have to take action, but that does not mean that we should be pointing fingers at relatively innocent industries. Airlines do not need any encouragement – being eco-friendly is massively rewarding for airlines.

Norman

Well said Mr Spohr. I am so pleased you have the courage of my convictions.

High Mile Club

Planes are an easy culprit, but no one bats an eye at all them powerplants that give electricity to their homes. Bet they’d start complaining if we had to start cutting off the power at certain hours to reduce emissions.

JFP

With all due respect, your should mention the fossil-fuel power plants that generate the electricity for charging those Teslas, Nissan Leafs, Chevy Bolts, etc.

Jorn Hodal

To the point, bravo!!!

Bartosz

I would agree with the people in the comments – I think our attention should shift from aviation to other industries when it comes to CO2 emissions but I understand why this ‘flight shaming’ movement exists. It would be much easier to not travel / travel less by plane than (for example) have no electricity in your house since the energy industry’s emissions are much higher than aviation’s. I also think that travelling by plane less would reduce CO2 emissions, which is good, any amount less is good. I do agree with the fact that airlines are doing quite a… Read more »

Bryce

There are plenty of ways for other sectors to reduce emissions besides expecting people to have “no electricity”. For example, the maximum velocity on freeways can be reduced from 120 to 100 km/h…which would produce a huge emissions reduction. And, of course, the most effective way to help the environment is to stop explosive population growth; in that respect, I wonder how many proponents of flight shaming have more than 2 kids…

JM Oeben

In the Netherlands the speed gets reduced from 120/130 to 100 km/h. In my opinion that’s a really good option

Bryce

Yes, indeed.
Germany should also follow this example, and introduce speed limits on its freeways.

Falco

THe majority of Germany’s highways already have speed limits, only a few sections of straight, unimpeded highways are spreed limit free.

Cahpek

Just learnt that production of cement creates 8% of CO2, while aviation emits 2.5% of the gas. Therefore cement production creats a bigger carbon footprint than aviation. Perhaps, those environmental extremists should look at where they are staying, and if their homes contains cement, perhaps they should consider moving to a non-cement home? H’mm, I just wonder what sort of house or building does Ms Greta Thunberg live in? I am not totally enviromental unfriendly. Just saying one has to be rational and have to balance our choices in life. Taking the middle ground is not all bad. We should… Read more »

jim

Greta isn’t much different than ‘crisis actors’. Another child being used as a pawn. The media love this sort of thing and their adoration undoubtedly spurs her on. Not saying she isn’t sincere, but the attention she is receiving is vastly out of proportion. Without the cameras and microphones she would be back home and in school.

TonytTDK

Hr Spohr has hit the nail squarely on the head.! Airlines & aircraft (& engine) manufacturers are working hard to save themselves money AND by doing so help the environment. I had a conversation with someone just last week about the FACT that aviation only contributes 2% of the Worlds CO2. They Googled it because they didn’t believe me & were genuinely astounded to find that it WAS accurate. IMO the biggest problem isn’t so much those in positions of power within the ‘green’ movement. These people usually tell the truth, even if they may skew the interpretation a little… Read more »

Gerry Stumpe

This is a time of great change in aviation. New, cleaner more efficient powerplants and aircraft. I remember the B707’s on take-off pumping out black smoke. We have come a long way. I believe (and have read) that non-aviation industries such as coal-fired plants and automobiles are two of the many causes of pollution. Air travel in today’s world is absolutely necessary to connect people and states. I am all for the preservation of the planet but credit where credit is due. Aviation(quickest way of travel) should not be maligned. I agree with Mr. Spout absolutely.

Gerry Stumpeh

I agree with Mr. Spohr absolutely. Sorry I misstated his name.

Ivan

If only airlines would pay more money into the development of next gen aircraft (hybrid or even electric) then maybe they could actually proof something. Otherwise it’s a Bullock.

Bryce

Stop spreading FAKE NEWS!
Every time an airline buys a next-generation plane, it’s financially enabling the airframe/engine manufacturer to invest in even better technology. That’s why making a profit isn’t evil…because it enables innovation.

Let’s turn the tables: Why doesn’t Greta Thunberg invest her time and effort in helping to finance next gen aircraft technology rather than poor-mouthing about current technology? If she stayed at school rather than sailing around the world, she might be able to qualify as an engineer and make an actual contribution 😉

Ross Filburn

This global warming hoax has to be the biggest hoax ever perpetrated. Just changing the hoax to “climate change” Was further evidence. The climate has always changed. Congratulations. Very scientific. Oh yeah. And now we are going to control the changing climate. And who decided that we aren’t moving to a better climate. Why stop the change (as if we could). Delusional. I’m the mean time implementing the policies of the eco alarmists would do great damage to economies and standards of living. And particularly for poor and emerging countries and people. The lunatics promoting the hoax publicly leave giant… Read more »

Gerry S

And now a word from your angry neighbourhood flat-earther……

Sphere

With literally no respect whatsoever:
F*CK YOU