10 Mar 2020, 13:11
Rachel Waldholz

Coronavirus impact could undermine aviation’s commitment to climate goals

Der Spiegel

The steep drop in air travel caused by the coronavirus outbreak is reducing carbon emissions in the short-term, but the economic hit could undermine the aviation industry’s commitment to longer term climate targets, Christoph Seidler writes in Der Spiegel. The trade association IATA estimates the outbreak could cost passenger airlines 63 to 113 billion euros this year, Der Spiegel reports. On Friday, Germany’s Lufthansa Group announced it would cut up to half its planned flights going forward because of the drop in bookings, while in China, air traffic at the 25 biggest airports has fallen 80 percent since the beginning of the year, the article says. That means carbon emissions from aviation are also down. But the hit to their bottom line might drive airlines to rethink some climate-friendly investments, like purchasing more fuel-efficient aircraft or voluntarily purchasing carbon offsets, Siedler writes, and there are already signs that airlines might lobby lawmakers to cancel or postpone climate policies. Benjamin Smith, the head of the airline Air France-KLM, has said European governments should suspend plans for new taxes on aviation, while the head of the aviation group in the German parliament, Klaus-Peter Willsch of Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party, has called for Germany to suspend a planned increase in the air traffic tax. The trade group Airlines for Europe told Seidler it’s unclear what impact the coronavirus outbreak might have on airlines’ climate goals. "These are long-term commitments that will not disappear overnight,” spokesperson Jennifer Janzen told Der Spiegel, but added that it is clear that any additional financial burden "will only make the situation of our airlines worse."

While aviation accounts for only a small share of Germany's total emissions, it is one of the fastest-growing sources and global passenger numbers are projected to grow rapidly over the next years. As part of its Climate Action Programme 2030, the German government plans to do away with "flawed incentives" that lead to cheap airplane tickets, and plans to increase the aviation levy on 1 April 2020.

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