Easyjet did not make as many headlines as this week. Whether "New York Times", CNN, "Gulf News" from Dubai, the SPIEGEL or dozens of other media around the globe - all have reported on the British budget airlines. The message from Luton to London was also spectacular: "From now on, Easyjet will be the first major airline to offset the CO2 emissions from fuel for all its flights to all its customers," Easyjet announced in a communiqué.
That sounds wonderfully forward-looking. And outshines the present: the explanation of the aviation industry's explanation of the climate crisis. Because the emissions of the airlines shoot high - only for flights within the EU by more than 20 percent in three years.
Greta Thunberg and her followers have made "flying ash" a winged and hated word in the industry. Worse for Easyjet and Co .: French President Emmanuel Macron, EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the German Federal Environment Agency, the Dutch parliament, international scientists and conservationists are demanding a kerosene tax - which would increase the price of cheap flights.
Many air travelers want to calm their conscience - the number of passengers transferring money to compensation providers has multiplied in recent months. The payments go to environmental projects that are supposed to save those greenhouse gas levels elsewhere in the world that blow the jets into the atmosphere. These compensation payments are controversial. But also better than doing nothing.
Easyjet flights are far from being carbon neutral
That's where the vow of Easyjet comes in handy. The airline now wants to compensate itself - in a big way. "It's a good deal for the customers," says CEO Johan Lundgren, "we'll cover the costs." To this end, his company will provide 25 million pounds (about 29 million euros) in the current financial year.
However, neither Lundgren nor the Easyjet communiqué mention a significant detail: these payments mean that Easyjet flights are far from being carbon neutral.
29 million euros, that is 30 cents per Easyjet plane ticket sold. A bargain. The federal government alone is already spending around 2 million euros per year to make business trips climate-neutral. Easyjet is one of the largest airlines in Europe. And those who compensate themselves have to pay a multiple of 30 cents. For example, with myclimate, the short-distance route from Berlin to Vienna costs 4 euros - or the one to Mallorca 7 euros.
How does this huge difference come about? A decisive factor is the extent of the compensation. Because Easyjet wants to offset almost exclusively the carbon dioxide emissions of its flights: It should be around 8.5 million tons in this financial year. On top of that come a maximum of 130,000 tons for other gases.
Experts see it as a sham. "The climate impact of aviation goes far beyond CO2 emissions," says Martin Schmied, head of traffic, noise and spatial development at the Federal Environment Agency. "Water vapor, nitrogen oxides and other exhaust gases have a significant impact on the climate" - especially at high altitudes. Because here water freezes on these exhaust particles to long-lasting ice clouds. These reflect the heat rising from the ground back to the earth and thus increase global warming. "Several recent studies show that the overall climate impact of aviation is about three times that of the pure CO2 effect," says Schmied.
In order to reflect the actual climate impact of aircraft, experts have developed the so-called RFI (Radiative Forcing Index). The IPCC advised 20 years ago to multiply the CO2 emissions of longer flights by a factor of 2.7. The Federal Environment Agency recommends a factor of 3.
"What Easyjet does here is better than nothing"
Easyjet does not use any RFI factor. "You definitely can not talk about climate neutrality," says Schmied. This is also how Felix Creutzig, a scientist from the Berlin Climate Research Institute MCC, sees this: "What Easyjet does here is better than nothing," says Creutzig. "But these flights are not climate-neutral, they are only compensated for by a third or at most half."
Environmentalists attack Easyjet. "This is window dressing, a greenwashing story," says Greenpeace traffic expert Benjamin Stephan. "Here, the customers are duped.Passengers is not at all clear how the climate-damaging effect of aircraft composed."
Around 2,500 words long is the English-language communiqué by Easyjet. Nowhere does the airline mention the effects of water vapor, nitrogen oxides or contrails at thousands of meters altitude on global warming. And not once does the company say its flights will not be carbon neutral despite CO2 offsetting.
From a "Mogelpackung" speaks Christoph Bals, the Political Director of the organization German Watch. The term "Net Zero Carbon Flights" used by Easyjet was formally correct, but misleading, "because the consumer then expects the climate impact to be zero." After all, easyjet starts to move seriously - unlike many other airlines.
At the request of SPIEGEL, a company spokeswoman admitted: "It is not our current goal to become climate-neutral, we focus on the CO2 emissions caused by fuel." The compensation payments are a "temporary solution" to the development of new technologies such as electric aircraft.
The prices per compensated ton of CO2, which Easyjet specifies, are also exceptionally low. The company wants to pay only about 3.50 euros for certificates from climate protection projects. "If one were to buy out the certificates from European emissions trading, a ton would cost significantly more than 20 euros," says expert Schmied from the Federal Environment Agency. Leading compensation providers such as myclimate or atmosfair charge 23 euros per tonne.
"Easyjet wants to do it right, but not expensive"
Easyjet justifies its extremely low prices with the large amounts of certificates that one buys: It is about ten percent of the global compensation market. All Easyjet projects are compliant with the highest industry standards. A spokesman for myclimate, on the other hand, maintains: "Very good, future-oriented climate protection projects that, in addition to the mere reduction of CO2 emissions, also meet several UN sustainability goals, can not be implemented for € 3.50 per tonne."
"Easyjet tries to do something right here, but does not make it too expensive," says climate researcher Creutzig.
The company could already compensate for all its climate-damaging emissions today. Only that would cost many times the £ 25 million. And to Easyjet is obviously not ready.