It began, like many discussions in our family, during a joint family dinner. One of my sons, then still a teenager, politically very active and vocal (maybe not for the right side, in his father’s opinion!) announced to all of us that he will never fly again – because of global warming and the contribution aviation makes to it. As an experienced father of three I immediately decided not to enter into a discussion, simply because his siblings would take side with him against their parents, so instead I proposed to look at the facts.
The facts are of course that civil aviation does indeed contribute to global warming – what doesn’t? McKinsey, among numerous others, has recently published an article about decarbonizing aviation that provides an excellent introduction to the subject. It is summarized that pre-pandemic about 2.5% of the total global CO2 emissions were caused by aviation. Therefore, I think it is fair to state that our industry is not the main problem, although we all are fully aware that every ton of CO2 counts and that the predicted growth of air traffic will further increase the need to act. It is also necessary to mention that recent research work sees that non-CO2 effects should not be underestimated in this context, but this research work is still in a nascent stage.
As a result of the increasing need to take action, the aviation industry has committed to become net-zero by 2050. Numerous activities need to contribute to achieving this target, such as more efficient fleets on numerous levels, from better operations and individual flight planning to common airspace control, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and carbon offsetting. McKinsey estimates that a fuel efficiency improvement of 39% has been achieved between 2005 and 2019, and McKinsey’s work further quantifies each of the aforementioned activities in relation to a projected global 2030 view.
All that said, in my view two facts need to be highlighted:
- net-zero aviation cannot be achieved immediately, especially as a lot of the described activities take time to be implemented, such as fleet renewals or moving to a Single European Sky (we don’t even have a single European power plug yet, by the way!)
- it will lead to higher ticket prices for the passengers.
Still, we can already act now, mainly by offsetting CO2 emissions and further pushing for SAF. Many airlines have taken action and offer CO2 neutral flights. In some cases, CO2 neutral flights are offered by airlines as a special fare family or product bundle. For instance, the Lufthansa Group offers “green fares” for all intra-European flights, with the fare uplift covering 20% CO2 reduction through the usage of SAF and 80% of CO2 reduction by offsetting. This offer is currently not available for intercontinental flights, although this is most likely just a matter of time, either for LHG or others. Indeed, many other airlines also offer CO2 neutrality as an optional ancillary product available to purchase, very often based purely on CO2 offsetting.
Both ways of reducing CO2 (SAF and offsetting) can be integrated and embedded into distribution processes with relative ease. Third-party service providers such as Berlin-based start-up Sqake offer highly sophisticated and automated tools to exactly calculate the amount of CO2 emitted by travel on a specific route and cabin class, as well as executing the CO2 neutrality through SAF, climate projects on behalf of the airlines or a mixture of both. Assuming that airlines will not revenue manage the price of CO2 neutrality, a cost-based price can be provided to the traveller. And even if the airline is not able to provide such seamless methods as special fare brands or ancillary services, travellers can still compensate emissions by offsetting these through stand-alone methods such as those provided by companies or foundations like Switzerland-based myclimate.org.
In essence, reaching CO2 neutrality when flying is already possible today, either through a service, provided by the airline or by offsetting through independent providers (although not all CO2 offsetting projects are equal and attention should be paid to where contributions really go!). But reaching CO2 neutrality comes at a cost, and in the end travellers will have to cover them, either directly or indirectly. And this point is where I see the paradox. While 56% of travellers worry about climate change, less than 3% of them currently travel CO2-neutral. Or in other words, most travellers recognise the problem and the mechanisms to achieve individual travel that is CO2-neutral are available, but very few really “walk the walk.” Therefore, blaming (or even financially punishing) airlines for CO2 emissions is not very helpful as long as travellers are not willing to cover the additional efforts of the airlines in the form of higher ticket prices.
It was again during one of our family dinners where spoke about our travel plans for 2024. After taking trains and ferries for the last couple of vacations, all family members are back to flying – although this is not necessarily a contradiction to the dinner conversation mentioned at the beginning of this blog. It is about flying in a responsible way by also compensating for our leisure travel. Travellers can already help our industry to accelerate the journey to achieving CO2 neutrality and (if they travel on business) also help their companies reach their ESG targets. More and more companies have committed to reaching ESG targets and CO2 reduction down to CO2 neutrality is a key pillar. Thus, we see growing demand for CO2 neutral flight products and airlines need to find ways to offer and to deliver them. NDC could also act here as an enabler, if all parts of the distribution chain agree to support this.
Of course, CO2 offset does not equal CO2 prevention, but every little helps, and it is a big step forward. Travel in Motion has compensated all of our air travel for many years, and when we entered into our strategic partnership with Oystin Advisory our wish that they also start compensating was immediately accepted. We now strive to become a CO2-neutral company, and soon hope to be able to offset all emissions from heating the home office, hotel stays and public transport to the cups of coffee we drink and meals we take.
 The following data has been taken from McKinsey’s article Decarbonizing aviation: Executing on net-zero goals