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  • Writer's pictureAndreas Hardeman

Beyond Flight Shame

(Originally published on 20 September 2019)

We interrupt our series on emerging air transportation technologies and sustainability for a special announcement. The announcement being – how could it not be in this time of global climate action – that flying is said to destroy our climate and it may be worse than we thought.

The latest wave of flight guilt crashing down on the heads of the unwashed masses is probably best illustrated by the flight shaming (“flygskam”) movement which, in addition to being credited for

grounding Swedish business travel, also appears to create a veritable bonanza for carbon offset providers. Another recent initiative, “Stay Grounded”, has a group of concerned citizens advocating for the “Degrowth of Aviation”.

Of course, we have been here before. Aviation has always been a highly visible and symbolic target for climate campaigners. Roughly every ten years, a pustule of aviation-induced rage erupts, usually in Europe. In the late 1990s, around the time of the Kyoto Protocol and the IPCC Special Report, a first timid groundswell of protest and concern became palpable. A decade later, however, in the build up towards the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, a much more outspoken and in-your-face campaign was directed at aviation. How can we forget Plane Stupid’s polar bears falling from the sky? Or the – honestly quite funny - spoof advert by Spurt?

Traditionally, these decadal waves of opposition have been met by an industry counter-surge of professional, well-funded and clever communications and PR efforts, such as the “Freedom to Fly” and the “Flying’s a Wonderful Thing” campaigns.

In addition, airlines were savvy enough to get ahead of the game by announcing, in 2007, a vision to achieve carbon-neutral growth "on the way to a carbon-free future". The vision was accompanied by a short-term fuel efficiency goal, a carbon-neutral growth commitment from 2020 and a 50% absolute reduction in (net) carbon emissions by 2050. They even boldly called on their aerospace partners to build a zero emissions aircraft by 2057.

Climate ambitions, however, have been accelerating ferociously. Many governments have now signed up to reach economy-wide net-zero emissions targets by 2050 – and some, like Norway, Finland and Uruguay, even well before that. As one would expect, calls are already being made to bring this date forward to 2030 or even 2025.

What this means for aviation is that this time round, launching another “feel-good” campaign may not gain much sympathy outside its own bubble. It almost certainly will not dissuade governments from introducing or increasing carbon-related flight taxes.

And what’s more, this time there seems to exist very little, if any, scope for industry to once again move out ahead of the political curve by announcing ambitious aspirations for the distant future. In the current climate, anything that could be realistically achieved to bring down aviation's carbon emissions in the short- to medium term will almost certainly be seen as “too little, too late”. And that's a real shame.


About the author: Andreas Hardeman (The Hague, 1967) is an internationally experienced air transportation lawyer, sustainability expert and acclaimed aviation writer and commentator on current industry trends. Opinions in this blog are exclusively those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his business associates or clients. He can be contacted directly at

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