Why are people still flying to climate conferences by private jet?

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One of the many occasions climate change denier and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak uses a private jet.
Climate change denier and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak flew to COP28 at Dubai by private jet.

Carole Roberts, UCL; Mark Maslin, UCL, and Prof Priti Parikh, UCL

Rishi Sunak, David Cameron and King Charles are just three of the more than 70,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries at the latest UN climate summit in Dubai, COP28. But they are among hundreds who will have travelled there by private jet. In fact, the UK prime minister, foreign secretary and king even travelled in three separate planes.

At COP27 in Egypt last year, around 315 private jet journeys took place. This is an extraordinary statistic, especially as fewer world leaders attended that COP, as many were busy at a G20 summit in Bali.

That’s why we set up a team of academic experts to estimate the carbon footprint of travel to this year’s meeting, COP28 in Dubai, for different modes of transport including private jets. We ultimately want to empower attendees to make informed climate-conscious travel choices.

We also compared the carbon footprints for the past three COPs to help see where the conferences could be located in order to dissuade attendees from using private jets, unless absolutely essential for security. The use of private jets last year – and presumably this year too, though we don’t yet have full data – suggests this is becoming the new norm and has moved beyond just essential world leaders.

Carbon footprint of transport modes

Flying is already one of the most carbon-intensive forms of travel both due to emissions from burning jet fuel and because vapour trails help create high altitude clouds which trap more heat in the atmosphere. It’s also particularly hard to decarbonise – there aren’t electric planes we could simply use instead.

Image of a private jet by Andrew Thomas from Shrewsbury, UK. 
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
For emissions, private jets are the worst of the worst. Andrew Thomas via wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Private jet travel is the most polluting mode of all, consuming lots of fuel yet carrying few passengers. French economist Thomas Piketty argues they are an example of class inequality and must be tackled if we are to deal with climate change.

Their use by high-profile people clearly undermines the goal of a climate conference and symbolises a disconnect between environmental concerns and individual actions and a lack of commitment to sustainable practices. This in turn risks shaping and influencing public opinion. Previous research suggests members of the public take climate action less seriously if they feel that their leaders are not doing their bit.

We started by looking at the use of private jets for COP27 in Egypt (our results are available as a preprint ahead of formal peer-review). Most private flights were short-haul, often just an hour between the capital Cairo and the conference venue in Sharm El-Sheikh. Over shorter distances, planes are even less efficient as take off and landing burns more fuel compared to cruising.

So avoiding short flights and private jets is a must. With this in mind, we explored a range of travel options to get to COP28 in Dubai for participants from the UK, where we’re based.

For a journey from London to Dubai, private jet travel is 11 times more polluting than a commercial aircraft, 35 times more than train and 52 times more than coach travel (even after factoring in a flight from Istanbul, since you can’t go all the way to Dubai by train or coach). For those flying from the UK, the longer flight to Dubai compared to Egypt means emissions will be higher this year.

Carbon intensity (grams of CO₂equivalent) of transport from London to COP28:

Bar chart
Flight emissions are based on journeys from London to Dubai. Car, train and coach emissions are based on journeys from London to Istanbul and then a flight. Private jet emissions are based on a Cessna 680 Citation Sovereign (most common in COP27 data), commercial flight emissions are based on an Airbus A380-300 and car journeys are calculated for a Vauxhall Corsa.
Roberts et al (2023), CC BY-SA

Location of COP

Some of the blame for flight emissions must lie with the UN body which decides where COP meetings will be held, the UNFCCC. Dubai is surrounded by conflict zones, which block land routes from Europe, Asia and Africa and makes flying there essential.

While most delegates will want to travel sustainability, their actions will depend on the accessibility of alternative forms of travel such as safe land routes and for those coming from further away at least the option of direct flights to minimise their carbon emissions.

In this respect Dubai is a good choice as it is a major airline hub and so there are many direct flights and less need for second or internal flights.

Our analysis highlights the need to consider very carefully the carbon footprint implications of travel to COP meetings. Ultimately policymakers will need to identify host locations for climate change meetings which can help to minimise the carbon footprint of the participants.

Private jets are still not advisable, however. Their carbon footprint is substantially higher than other forms of transport, they exacerbates existing inequities at climate negotiations and send the wrong message to the world.The Conversation

Carole Roberts, Researcher, Carbon Footprint of Transport, UCL; Mark Maslin, Professor of Natural Sciences, UCL, and Prof Priti Parikh, Professor of Infrastructure Engineering and International Development, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How world leaders’ high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action

Space tourism: rockets emit 100 times more CO₂ per passenger than flights – imagine a whole industry

Continue ReadingWhy are people still flying to climate conferences by private jet?

King Charles accused of helping BP ‘greenwash’ its image with royal seal

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Republished from OpenDemocracy under  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

The oil giant was recognised by the Sustainable Markets Initiative – despite missing out on top sustainability score

Dimitris Dimitriadis

Ben Webster

4 November 2022, 2.16pm

The King’s climate change initiative has been accused of helping BP greenwash its image by giving it a royal seal of approval.

The Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), which Charles launched in 2020 when he was Prince of Wales, granted BP a “Terra Carta Seal” even though the oil and gas giant had failed to achieve a top score from the sustainability ranking company assessing applicants for the awards.

BP is a founding member of the SMI, while its chief exec Bernard Looney chairs the SMI’s Energy Transition Task Force. BP also appears to be helping fund the SMI, although no financial links are disclosed on the “Terra Carta Seal” section of the SMI’s website.

Charles announced 45 corporate winners of the seal during COP26 in Glasgow last year, including AstraZeneca, Orsted and Unilever. BP was not mentioned on that list but was quietly added later to the list of recipients.

Charles is today hosting a pre-COP27 reception at Buckingham Palace with seal winners expected to be on the guest list.

He has described the seal as recognising organisations “which have made a serious commitment to a future that is much more sustainable”, saying it “puts nature, people and the planet at the heart of the economy”.

Environment groups have criticised the decision to give a seal to BP, which this week posted “eye-watering” quarterly profits of £7bn on the back of the surge in wholesale gas prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s concerning that BP, as a major sponsor of the Sustainable Markets Initiative, was able to be awarded the seal despite its track record of delaying climate action,” said Faye Holder, programme manager at the think tank InfluenceMap – which researches the impact of businesses on the climate.

“Awards like this run the risk of legitimising greenwashing.”

Clive Russell, a spokesperson for Ocean Rebellion, an activist group that spun out of Extinction Rebellion, said giving BP a seal undermined SMI’s credibility: “How can an initiative co-founded by a world renowned polluter like BP – a company currently investing £300m in renewables and £3.8bn in new oil and gas – be taken seriously? The SMI should be disbanded. Those involved should hang their heads in shame. This is blatant greenwashing.”

SMI makes reference on its website to criteria used by Corporate Knights (CK) – a research firm that assesses the sustainability of the world’s largest companies. “Recipients of the Terra Carta Seal have been assessed against CK’s indicators and methodology used for CK’s Global 100 most sustainable companies,” it states.

Analysis by Oil Change International found that climate pledges made by BP and seven other major oil and gas companies were ‘grossly insufficient’

CK, which worked “in close partnership” with SMI on the Terra Carta Seal, refused to disclose its assessment of BP. However, BP did not feature in CK’s Global 100 Ranking for 2021.

Some analysts have said BP’s environmental targets are more ambitious than some of its competitors but analysis by the group Oil Change International found that the climate pledges made by BP and seven other major oil and gas companies were “grossly insufficient”.

Holder said BP spent a lot of money promoting its green credentials but its claims were “out of proportion to the company’s actual investments in low carbon activities and its continued lobbying to weaken climate policies around the world, including the climate compatibility checkpoint in the UK”.

A spokesperson for BP said that the organisation was considered for the Terra Carta seal “as an active Task Force member of the SMI” and was “proud to have received it”.

Lloyd’s of London, the world’s largest insurance marketplace, also quietly received a seal. It was not mentioned in SMI’s press release last year and did not feature in CK’s Global 100 Ranking for 2021.

Lloyd’s has been criticised for being slow to exit fossil fuel underwriting and investments and in April was forced to shut its City headquarters after the building was barricaded by Extinction Rebellion activists.

A Lloyd’s spokesperson said the Terra Carta Seal was “a prestigious accolade which we are grateful to receive, but we are determined to be measured by our progress and delivering on our resolute commitments to be the insurer of net zero”.

HSBC, another seal winner not listed in CK’s Global 100 Ranking for 2021, was recently reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority after it ran a series of “misleading” climate adverts that failed to reflect the bank’s own contribution to the climate crisis.

An HSBC spokesperson said: “We are committed to a net zero future and support industry-wide collaboration into solving the challenge of how the financial sector and its clients can achieve net zero.

“We have had a policy since 2018 to stop supporting thermal coal projects and we are phasing out existing thermal coal financing. We have committed to a science-based phase down of our fossil fuel financing, are updating our sector policies including energy and deforestation to align with latest scientific guidance, and are setting science-based 2030 financed emissions sectoral targets for on- and off-balance sheet financing.”

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson declined to answer questions and said: “This is a matter for SMI.”

SMI and Corporate Knights did not respond to requests for comment.

Republished from OpenDemocracy under  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingKing Charles accused of helping BP ‘greenwash’ its image with royal seal

Just Stop Oil cakes king Charles

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Image of Just Stop Oil after ‘caking’ King Charles wax model at Madame Tussauds. A Just Stop Oil image.

Having bought tickets to Madame Tussauds, at just after 10.30 the two Just Stop Oil supporters stepped over the rope barrier separating the King from the public and smeared the model with chocolate cake.  It’ll clean up.

Eilidh McFadden 20 from Glasgow and Tom Johnson 29, a painter decorator from Sunderland then made the following statement:

“We are here because we seek to protect our freedoms and rights, because we seek to protect this green and pleasant land which is the inheritance of us allLast year at COP 26 in Glasgow Queen Elizabeth said [2]: “The time for words has moved to the time for action!”

Her successor King Charles III – on the continued heating of our world has said [3]“We are feeling the effects of all of this now, and disasters are increasing with terrifying frequency and intensity, and causing unprecedented levels of physical and economic damage.”

“no nation, no region and no population will be inured from the impacts of food, water and energy insecurity, and the resulting economic and political insecurity that arise from our seeming utter determination quite literally to test this planet to destruction”

“In every sector of the economy there are solutions available now”

“For the past, what,  40-50 years I have been driven by an overwhelming desire not, to be confronted by my grandchildren – or yours, Ladies and Gentlemen, whom I mind about equally as much – demanding to know why I didn’t do anything to prevent them being bequeathed a poisoned and destroyed planet.  Now, of course, we are indeed being confronted by these very children, demanding immediate action and not just words.”

“The science is clear. The demand is simple: just stop new oil and gas. It’s a piece of cake”

[from a Just Stop Oil press release]

Continue ReadingJust Stop Oil cakes king Charles

Open Letter to Liz Truss on ‘Anti Growth’ – XR co-founder, Gail Bradbrook

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Dear Liz Truss,

In your recent speech at the Conservative party conference you mentioned growth 29 times; said “I will not allow the anti-growth coalition to hold us back” and named Extinction Rebellion as part of this coalition.

Thank you for opening up this critical conversation. We appreciate the opportunity to share our understanding and we hope many others will join us for a grown up conversation in these urgent times. 

We know that members of your party understand our concerns, and are also worried about your economic ideology. When we met Michael Gove in 2019 he said:

“We have had an economic model for generations which has been extractive and exploitative, and in the same way as we’ve created debt fuelled economic growth that creates a burden for the next generation, so our approach towards natural resources has had to change and we’re wrestling as a government with how to do that, how to move towards a more circular economy. And also how to re think different parts of our economy, and again we may disagree over the imperative or the importance placed on growth, but certainly how we can achieve a greater degree of human flourishing and at the same time be more respectful to the limited resources that the earth has and critically also recognise that its not simply about drawing down resources, the earth is a system, our environment is a system of which we are a part and if we do violence to it then we are doing violence to ourselves, we are hacking at the tree of life.”  

There are many forms of growth that are beneficial. Specific sectors of our economy badly need to grow, for example homegrown sources of renewable energy. A sector that would do so much better if this supposed free market was not distorted by the vast subsidies the UK gives to fossil fuels.

However, the data is clear, growth for growth’s sake, without limits, without purpose, is destroying life on earth. When unfettered growth happens in a human body we call it cancer. Economic growth is only beneficial up to a certain point, beyond which it is harmful to people and planet. Economic growth is lucrative to those who are already wealthy (who unsurprisingly then insist on keeping it as the focus). Trickle down economics has failed us for a long time, everyone knows it’s just an out of date idea, not a realistic method that improves the lives of the general public. When we are measuring GDP we would best consider it a measure of the Gross Destruction of the Planet by the Greedy Death Project! 

Do you not agree when Margaret Thatcher said “We should always remember that free markets are a means to an end. They would defeat their object if by their output they did more damage to the quality of life through pollution than the well-being they achieve by the production of goods and services”

Extinction Rebellion are calling for a Well Being economy, which has a clear and measured purpose to maximise wellness and minimise harm; at home and across the world. There is no shortage of fantastic ideas about how to achieve that, including ideas to support circular uses of materials whilst staying within planetary and social boundaries. We love imaginative ideas, such as regenerative finance and mission based economics; where there could be a focus of our specific strengths on tackling major challenges together, making use of the innovation and delivery capabilities in business and markets, the organising capacities of our civil service, the intellect of our academics. We are a wealthy country, we could afford to pay for universal basic services and lead the world on tackling the climate and ecological crisis. And Extinction Rebellion champions assemblies of ordinary people, to think together with experts about how to make this vital transition.

Because it doesn’t matter how attached your Government is, Ms. Truss, to a specific form of free market ideology. Physics and ecology are ultimately in charge and the life support systems of the earth are starting to tip. Doubling down on the extraction of fossil fuels commits our children and grandchildren here and globally to lives where food production fails and civilisation  collapses. We charge that members of your Government, who are making decisions now, against the advice of scientists and international bodies, are committing crimes against humanity. 

We see truths shared from many quarters. King Charles has said “We need nothing short of a paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary levels and pace.” The Chief Executive of Shell Ben Van Beurden recently called for a windfall tax and  Philip Kotler, father of modern  marketing called for Degrowth (the academic term for an economy focussed on Wellbeing) In October 2018 the IPCC said that limiting global warming would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. 

People will become increasingly desperate in this country as the consequences of years of terrible choices come home and impact us all. Choices to sell off our assets, to poison our food, air and water; while at the same time we failed to invest in homegrown renewables and insulate homes. We are left with little security and a cost of living scandal. Over 20,000 people in the UK already died unnecessarily this year since April. Those with the least responsibility for these crises are suffering in the millions, battered and uprooted by climate disasters, from the Horn of Africa, to Bangladesh, to Mozambique, to Pakistan.

We see the callousness and the corruption and the refusal to face reality. Those of us who have the capacity and the conscience will do all we can to stop this death machine. There are a growing number of people who just can’t pay the bills that are mounting and others who won’t work for poverty wages, unable to make ends meet despite their hard work (though I understand you, Liz Truss, think British workers “need more graft”). We will strike bill payments in solidarity and strength, and we will not let you frack the British countryside, poison the water and the people.

Yes, we are uniting, because we believe in our shared humanity, we love our country, and this Earth, and we are willing to take responsibility, whether that comes at a cost to us, on behalf of our collective wellbeing. 

A key aspect of civil disobedience is a belief in the need to talk. I would welcome a dialogue with yourself or colleagues – please be in touch!


Gail Bradbrook

Dr. Gail Bradbrook, Co-Founder Extinction Rebellion

Notes for Editors

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/23/uk-has-biggest-fossil-fuel-subsidies-in-the-eu-finds-commission
  2.  A systematic review of the evidence on decoupling of GDP, resource use and GHG emissions, part I: bibliometric and conceptual mapping https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/159385/; Tim Parrique https://unevenearth.org/2020/06/decoupling/ Limits to Growth review https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3xw3x/new-research-vindicates-1972-mit-prediction-that-society-will-collapse-soon 
  3.  When countries have low GDP, economic growth brings a high marginal benefit. But, for developed countries with high GDP, the marginal benefit of economic growth is lower. There is a diminishing marginal utility of extra income and at higher levels, the problems of growth may outweigh the benefits. https://www.economicshelp.org/macroeconomics/economic-growth/benefits-growth/ 
  4.  The academic term is Degrowth – eg see Jason Hickel Less is More, https://weall.org/ etc
  5.  Circular Economy eg https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview
  6.  Doughnut Economics https://doughnuteconomics.org/about-doughnut-economics
  7. Eg https://thefinanser.com/2022/10/what-is-regenerative-finance-refi-part-one 
  8.  Mariana Mazzucato https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/missions-could-make-europe-cool-again-prof-mariana-mazzucato 
  9.  UBS eg https://universalbasicservices.org/; Calls for UK to not drop its commitments : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/03/cop27-host-egypt-warns-uk-not-backtrack-climate-agenda
  10. https://theconversation.com/climate-tipping-points-could-lock-in-unstoppable-changes-to-the-planet-how-close-are-they-191043
  11. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/oct/04/shell-chief-tax-energy-firms-ben-van-beurden-gas-electricity
  12. Philip Kotler, father of modern marketing, supports degrowth: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ben-tolhurst_degrowth-the-case-for-constraining-consumption-activity-6982821869351510016-jRQb?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_ios
  13. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2335991-there-are-thousands-more-uk-deaths-than-usual-and-we-dont-know-why/
Continue ReadingOpen Letter to Liz Truss on ‘Anti Growth’ – XR co-founder, Gail Bradbrook