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.

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.

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… 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 b***k 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… Read more »

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.

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… Read more »