How to degrow aviation

90% of the world population have never flown. Aviation’s climate impact is produced by a few wealthy frequent flyers

On the occasion of the climate summit COP 25 in Madrid, the Stay Grounded network publishes a new report on “Degrowth of Aviation”. It combines a multitude of policy instruments and strategies to reduce aviation in a just way.

Flying is the fastest way to fry the planet, and we don’t have time to hope for unrealistic technological solutions for aviation - there’s no way around reducing aviation. Degrowth of aviation can and must go along with attractive mobility alternatives, creating a livable future for us and our children

says Magdalena Heuwieser from Stay Grounded, one of the report’s authors.

With the report, Stay Grounded, a global network of about 150 member organisations, fills an important gap: While it has been clear to the climate movement and civil society that “green growth” of aviation is and will be an illusion, clear steps leading to effectively reducing the negative environmental and social impacts of aviation have been missing so far. In July 2019, during the conference “Degrowth of Aviation” in Barcelona, more than 150 experts and civil society participants discussed different measures. The outcomes of the conference and further discussions led to the now published report.

Measures to reduce aviation need to be just

“Fact is that about 90% of the world population have never set foot on an airplane. So the big share of aviation’s climate impact is produced by few wealthy frequent flyers. To achieve climate justice, we therefore need to target those who fly often and on the expense of others: residents exposed to noise and particle pollution from planes, local ecosystems, future generations and those in the Global South who are already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis”, says Gabriela Vega Téllez from the Network CPOOEM, member of the National Indigenous Congress in Mexico and of the Stay Grounded Network.

According to the report, just measures to tackle the issue of aviation are ones that will:

  • reduce traffic, but enable mobility and cultural exchange (by putting moratoria on airports, and shifting flights to rail, busses and online conferences)
  • eliminate the unfair privileges and power of the aviation industry (by eliminating tax exemptions, subsidies and lobby control)
  • target the wealthy frequent flyers more than those who rarely or never fly (by a Frequent Flyer Levy or Air Miles Levy)
  • provide a just transition for workers in the aviation sector
  • not create new problems, such as with offset projects, biofuels, or an increasing need for energy through high demand for synthetic fuels. Also, measures should not overemphasise efficiency, which can lead to a “rebound effect” that causes even more air travel.

There is little value in civil society demanding ‘environmentally friendly, decarbonized or carbon-neutral aviation’. Instead, ‘sufficiency’ and degrowth of aviation are necessary

concludes Magdalena Heuwieser. The report will be discussed in the civil society summit accompanying the COP25 in Madrid, and is aimed to spark more campaigns and policies to tackle aviation’s climate impact in a just way.