COP26: Wrong to paint aviation as ‘poster child’ for decarbonisation problems – Easyjet chief Johan Lundgren

Aviation has been unfairly depicted as the “poster child” for the problems of cutting carbon emissions, the head of Scotland’s largest airline said today.

Easyjet chief executive Johan Lundgren told The Scotsman said: "It has become something that is easy for people to picture when they see a plane in the sky and you have the vapour fumes coming out of it.

"Aviation has become the poster child for the difficulties of decarbonisation"

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"It has become more a symbol of something else.”

Easyjet chief executive Johan Lundgren said increasing air taxes was the “least effective” way of decarbonising aviation. Picture: The Scotsman

Mr Lundgren, speaking after taking part in an aviation event at COP26 as chair of industry group Airlines for Europe, said the impact of flying on the environmemt should not be exaggerated.

He said: "To put it into context, it is 3 per cent of global carbon emissions.

"So whilst that contributes to climate change, the concern is more that if it continues to grow without any actions in place, it is going to be even more unacceptable than it is.

“During the [Covid] pandemic, where there has been very little or no flying at all, we have seen [global] carbon emissions have reduced by 7-8 per cent, so you are not going to solve the whole issue of climate change by stopping flying.

Easyjet hopes to start flying passengers in hydrogen-powered aircraft from 2035

"But we need to play our part.”

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However, Mr Lundgren argued that increasing air taxes was the “least effective” way of decarbonising aviation.

He added: "I’m very sceptical of well-meaning intent to think you can solve the problem by flying less.”

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He said: “What you will do is increase inequality and worse load factors [the proportion of seats filled] on planes because the privileged and wealthy can continue to fly.

"Where you increase your prices, you will get fewer people on board, and to compensate, you will clearly increase prices even more."

Mr Lundgren said he was confident new aircraft would be emissions free within 15 years.

He said: "I am a firm believer that we will get to zero emissions technologies by the mid-2030s.”

However, he said that until then, investment was required to increase the supply of greener aviation fuel, which is carbon neutral.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel, or SAF, is only available in very limited quantities and costs five times as much as traditional jet fuel.

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Sarah Colenbrander, director of climate and sustainability for think tank ODI Global, who took part in the event, said: “Aviation accounts for a small proportion of global emissions, but that does not mean it is insignificant – it would be the sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide if it were a country.

"Moreover, aviation emissions primarily benefit a tiny number of privileged people.

"Less than 1 per cent of the global population is likely responsible for half of the sector’s climate impact.

"Cutting air travel emissions offers an opportunity to quickly reduce the carbon footprint of the rich to free up space in our remaining carbon budget for the poor.

“Green technologies may well be a part of the long-term answer, but as yet we do not have any proven solutions at scale.

"In the absence of low-carbon options, rapid and deep decarbonisation demands less flying today while the aviation industry invests in research and development.”

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