Are airlines genuinely fuelling or mitigating the climate crisis? We evaluate the future of the industry now that all the attention is focused on aviation.

Netherlands-based climate groups have accused KLM of “greenwashing”. The airline faces legal threat for misinforming campaigns, since they try to convince their customers they are able to neutralize the environmental impact of their flights.

The Dutch campaigners, Fossielvrij Netherlands and Reclame Fossielvrij, assisted by environmental lawyers from ClientEarth, have launched this corporate lawsuit:

“We’re going to court to demand KLM tells the truth about its fossil-fuel dependent product. Unchecked flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. Customers need to be informed and protected from claims that suggest it is not.”

Hiske Arts, activist at Fossielvrij

Why is KLM facing legal action?

Last year, the partnership KLM-Air France announced the initiative to decrease emissions to net-zero by 2050. KLM writes “Fly Responsibly is KLM’s commitment to taking a leading role in creating a more sustainable future for aviation. We recognize the urgent need to limit global warming, and thus have committed to the targets defined in the Paris Climate Agreement”.

Environmentalists contend that “Fly Responsibly” promises to tackle climate change, but this is incompatible with the aim of increasing the number of flights. As a result, unless KLM agrees to change what activists understand as “greenwashing” the Dutch court will begin examining the case.

“We urgently need to reduce air traffic to keep a just and liveable world within reach. Airlines cannot be allowed to compete for business on claims that they are tackling the climate crisis, when the reality is they are fuelling it.”

Johnny White, ClientEarth lawyer

KLM’s case is not the first breaching European consumer law. Ryanair had an advertisement banned announcing they were “UK’s lowest emissions airline”. They had used and outdated statistic, besides they failed to include many competitors.

The key for a sustainable aviation: moderate flights

Aviation is one of the most energy-intensive forms of consumption. The expected growth of the industry (both passenger and cargo) seems to be opposed to the decarbonization some airlines proclaim.

In fact, research by the organization Transport & Environment shows that aviation cannot align with net zero emissions and minimize its impact without lessening flights.

Climate groups complain that instead of reducing air traffic, airlines still focus on increasing profits at any cost, lobbying against environmental regulation.

Offsetting emissions is just one part of their green promises:

Airlines intentions also rely in predictions on new SAFs (sustainable aviation fuels), but they are yet-to-develop technologies and operational changes.

All eyes are set on air carriers and their “greenwashing” practices. Carbon neutral airports, biofuels, hydrogen and electric aircrafts, this is where the industry could be heading, but is aviation willing to take a leading role in easing global warming?

Carla Moure

Carla is a Journalist, Marketer and content creator. Born and raised in Barcelona, she moved to Canada to study International Business. She can speak four languages: Spanish, Catalan, English and French. Her areas of interests in the green field include Corporate Social Responsibility, ESG and Sustainable Development. Carla strongly believes communication is the most useful tool to shift minds towards a greener world.

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