Airlines accused of lobbying against stronger EU climate policy

Aviation giants including British Airways' parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) and Ryanair have been accused of opposing proposals for stronger climate policy in the European Union (EU), as the bloc works towards a 2050 net-zero target.

Airlines accused of lobbying against stronger EU climate policy

Lobbying demands detailed in the report include calls for jet fuel to be included in 'green' government funding and against higher environmental taxes

The accusation comes from think tank InfluenceMap, which this week published a new report ranking major airlines on their climate policy engagement. Sources of information used to compile the report include freedom of information requests, public comments to the media, media op-eds from executives and documents emailed to EU commission staff from airlines directly and from trade bodies in which they participate.

The sector, as a whole, is accused of being “one of the strongest opponents of climate policy in Europe”. InfluenceMap explains that while major players have repeatedly spoken in support of the EU’s long-term, top-line climate target, they have opposed specific national and bloc-wide regulations that would accelerate decarbonisation.

Airlines are accused of lobbying for Covid-19 bailout funding without environmental conditions, against an EU jet fuel tax, against higher carbon prices and against higher ticket taxes for flights, for example.

On a scale of ‘A’ to ‘E’, five of the ten airlines assessed by InfluenceMap in the report have been assigned an ‘E+’ or ‘E’. They are Ryanair, Lufthansa, easyJet, Air France-KLM and IAG, the owner of the likes of British Airways and Aer Lingus. Airline manufacturer Airbus, meanwhile, received a ‘D’ grade.

Airlines for Europe (A4E), the main body representing the sector in Europe, issued a response on behalf of all named airlines. It reads: “The idea that we have ‘actively lobbied’ against EU climate policies to reach these targets is false… We are committed to accelerating our carbon emission reductions to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.”

A4E is named by InfluenceMap as one of the bodies which opposed climate conditionality attachments to Covid-19 stimulus packages. The report claims that a spokesperson told media representatives last year that “now is not the time to be discussing green conditions for government support to airlines”. A4E is assigned an ‘E’ grade overall. 

UN Principles for Responsible Investment member Marshall Geck called the findings from InfluenceMap “worrying from an investor standpoint”, as well as in terms of the EU’s net-zero transition.

Geck said: “Such lobbying exposes these companies to both the risk of more drastic regulatory action to curtail the aviation sector’s emissions in the future as well as the risk of reputational damage due to the inconsistency displayed between their stated climate positions and their real-world lobbying actions”.

Geck’s warning to airlines echoes that made by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI). For two consecutive years, the TPI’s analysis of transport firms on management quality and emissions reductions has found that, despite long-term, top-line pledges, most are failing to deliver progress in line with the Paris Agreement. Just 23% of the 62 firms assessed for 2020, the latest iteration of the analysis, were found to be Paris-aligned,

The TPI argues that this failure to deliver robust and credible climate plans will result in increased transition risk and reputational risk in the coming years, discouraging investors as the finance sector is increasingly pressed to align with net-zero and as leading investors collaborate in calling for stronger climate policies from governments.

Sarah George

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