Airlines accused of lobbying against sustainable fuel mandates and tighter emissions accounting
British Airways’ parent company IAG has been accused of asking the Eu to weaken its sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) mandate, as part of a broader analysis revealing that many legacy airlines and aviation trade bodies are lobbying against stronger climate policies in Europe.
Think-tank InfluenceMap has this week published a new report assessing the lobbying activities of 10 major organisations across the European aviation sector on climate-related policy and legislation. The report covers legacy airlines, budget airlines, trade bodies and manufacturers.
InfluenceMap did note a decrease in lobbying against stronger climate policy from its last assessment of these organisations in 2021. Improvements in overall position were strongest among budget airlines, with easyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair now outscoring the assessed legacy carriers: Air France KLM, IAG and Lufthansa.
Nonetheless, the report concludes that the sector is still having a more negative impact on climate policy than the broader corporate landscape in Europe, highlighting several specific case studies.
Summarising the findings, InfluenceMap’s transport analyst Lucca Ewbank said: “The aviation sector remains one of the key opponents of effective climate policy in Europe. However there have been some notable shifts within the industry during the past year – in particular from low-cost airlines which have been more vocal in support of some aspects of EU climate policy.
“This is in contrast to the legacy airlines which have all stated top-line support for net-zero by 2050, but are continuing to lobby against a broad range of policies that would help achieve that goal.
“There is now a fairly clear divide between low-cost airlines and their legacy competitors when it comes to climate policy engagement in Europe.”
Regarding IAG, the report includes correspondence between the legacy carrier and the European Commission, first sent earlier this year and now available due to a freedom of information (FOI) request. This reveals that IAG asked for the Commission to only apply the SAF mandate to flights taken within the EU and to make it such that airlines could set their own timelines.
At present, the EU is proposing that fuel suppliers to airports should use blends of at least 2% SAF as standard, gradually increasing to 63% by 2050. This will apply to all suppliers, for flights within and beyond the bloc.
IAG has pledged to power 10% of its flights with SAF by 2030 and is a member of the UK Sustainable Aviation Coalition, which has urged a rapid, at-scale uptick in SAF use. Responding to InfluenceMap’s report, IAG stated that it will stand by its 2030 target and has plans to invest $865m in SAF within 20 years.
Also on fuels, InfluenceMap’s report contains newly released correspondence between Air France KLM and the European Commission, first sent last year. It shows the corporation opposing increased tax on traditional kerosene jet fuels.
One of the other major policy topics covered in the report is emissions accounting. At present, the EU does not include emissions from international shipping and aviation departing from member states in its accounting towards Paris Agreement progress. It also does now include international flights leaving Europe in its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
InfluenceMap’s report reveals that Air France-KLM and IAG have continued to push back against the inclusion in the EU ETS of all international flights departing Europe – as have some of the sector’s largest trade bodies. On the other hand, easyJet and Ryanair have publicly came out in favour of these changes for the first time within the past 12 months.
The EU ETS has been in place since 2005 and is one of the largest in the world. Members of the European Parliament are currently progressing with reforms to the Scheme, with top-level decisions now adopted but engagement with member states still to come.
Modal shift and just transition
Another key issue covered in the new report is demand management. Airlines seem broadly opposed to measures which could reduce passenger numbers – which is not surprising, but may come as a disappointment given that climate bodies including the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) argue that airlines cannot expand indefinitely in a world that will reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.
IfluenceMap lists Ryanair, American Airlines and IAG as opponents of a frequent flyer levy in the UK. The New Economic Foundation estimates that 70% of the flights leaving the UK each year are made by just 15% of the population.
Ryanair is also listed as an opponent to increased Air Passenger Duty in the UK, alongside Wizz Air, Easyjet, IAG and trade organisation IATA. The Treasury moved last November to exempt the return leg of domestic flights from Air Passenger Duty.
InfluenceMap has also highlighted a recent study commissioned by the aviation sector in Europe which argued that, if flights of 500km or less were banned and passengers shifted instead to rail and other modes of transport, just 1-2% of the EU’s aviation emissions would be cut. The study argued that many people would use cars instead, as there is “unlikely sufficient rail capacity to accommodate all air passengers”.
Greenpeace, on the other hand, commissioned a study which found that one-third of the EU’s busiest 150 short-haul flight routes have train alternatives of six hours or less. 27% of them have direct night train alternatives. That study found that capacity was sufficient to enable modal shift at scale, but that full modal shift would require more frequent, affordable and accessible trains.
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