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Lobbying Brussels: How airlines lobby against climate protection behind the scenes


Several European airlines are currently trying to slow down ambitious climate measures for air traffic in Brussels. The German Lufthansa, which recently received billions in aid money, is particularly active.

Lufthansa flight in Frankfurt am Main: Yes, climate protection - but only internationally, please

Photo: Christoph Schmidt / dpa

Anyone who would like to know how best to lobby against ambitious climate measures by the European Union should take a course at the Brussels-based consultancy Dr2 Consultants.

On their website, companies can book one-day workshops on the topic of Green Deal for around 500 euros and have the impact of the climate protection package on their business model explained to them. In addition, they would get "the right tools" to "effectively represent" the interests of their organization and learn how to contact EU authorities and "get their messages across at the right time," says the workshop advertisement.

Now would be an ideal time for such a course - because in a few weeks the EU Commission wants to officially announce which measures are to be used to implement the EU's higher climate targets. Actually, all sectors - whether car manufacturers, pig farmers or airlines - should deliver. The lobby engine in Brussels is therefore currently running at full speed - after all, many industries are trying to escape the stricter regulations and stricter CO₂ saving targets at the last minute.

Dr2 Consultants is located in a quiet side street in downtown Brussels, less than 200 meters from the European Parliament.

Her customers include Google, energy companies, the port of Rotterdam and a rather unknown initiative called the »Airline Coordination Platform«.

Behind the latter are several major European airlines, including Air France, the Dutch KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa.

They called on the consultants from Brussels to lobby the EU Commission against what they consider to be too strong climate protection measures in air traffic.

The Airline Coordination Platform has neither a website nor official documents for the initiative.

How Lufthansa is working on the climate commissioner

A letter from this dubious airline coordination platform fell into the hands of the British organization InfluenceMap. It has been researching the airlines for months to uncover their anti-climate protection lobbying and has now evaluated over 800 lobby letters. The organization got the internal mails and documents through lengthy inquiries based on the Freedom of Information Act. Their conclusion: "The companies claim that they stand behind the climate protection goals, but then lobby behind the scenes for the exact opposite," commented Ben Youriev, one of the authors of the report, in an interview with SPIEGEL.

The internal statement of the airline initiative was sent by Lufthansa, of all people, in an email to EU climate commissioner Franz Timmermans in January of this year.

In it, the airlines welcome the fact that the EU wants to become climate neutral by 2050 - but at the same time completely reject all proposed climate measures for air traffic.

They do not want emissions trading, a kerosene tax, alternative fuels or even a reduction in short-haul flights.

The airlines reject all ideas for more climate protection in air traffic:

  • The EU is thinking about reducing CO₂ certificates and auctioning a larger amount among the airlines - instead of giving them away as is now.

    This would increase the CO₂ price and the costs per flight.

    The airlines don't think that's a good idea.

  • The airlines also do not want a mandatory admixture of sustainable aviation fuels.

    Lufthansa has been advertising the so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) for months - it can "be used in aircraft without any problems" and is "a real alternative to fossil kerosene," says the company's website.

    But the airlines would rather not get involved in an ambitious quota, as the letter shows.

  • In the letter, the airlines also vehemently oppose the introduction of a kerosene tax.

    So far, the aviation industry - unlike all other fuel consumers - has not paid any taxes on aviation fuel.

  • It is also not surprising that the paper presents a ban on short-haul flights as "counterproductive" and speaks out against the financing of European rail traffic through a flight tax.

As an alternative, they refer them to an international regulation of air traffic so as not to distort competition, as it is said. This means Corsia, a climate protection program of the international civil aviation association ICAO. According to this, the aviation industry will only be allowed to grow "neutrally" from 2020 - based on the pre-Corona year 2019. Each additional ton of CO₂ should then be offset by purchasing CO₂ certificates from climate protection projects or by using more climate-friendly fuels. The pilot phase is currently beginning, and climate-neutral growth will not be mandatory for everyone until 2027. However, these climate measures are too lax, so that even the EU does not consider them sufficient.

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The department headed by EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans reacts relatively cautiously to the lobby letter in a reply email: Just like all other sectors in transport, aviation must also contribute something to the climate goals.

"Take note of your preference for global solutions and agree that global action is desirable for sustainable international aviation," the Commission said.

"The airlines are now doing as strong anti-climate campaigns as the big oil companies," said Ben Youriev from Influence Map.

"This anti-climate lobbying is taking place at a time when many airlines have received generous corona aid through taxpayers' money."

"Hypocrisy in a climate protection cloak"

Lufthansa itself is not aware of any guilt: "It's not about whether, but how we can make flying more environmentally friendly," replied the airline to SPIEGEL's inquiry about InfluenceMap's research.

However, there is no point in "burdening" airlines more and more because they will then no longer be able to invest in new technologies.

However, this argument could be used by all sectors, since in the EU all sectors are now "burdened" with a CO₂ price or emissions trading or are to be charged in the future.

According to this logic, there is then no climate policy at all.

Lufthansa explains about alternative fuels: They are “a big lever”, but “more expensive than fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.” An SAF quota therefore carries the risk of distorting competition and shifting traffic to areas where no quota applies.

"That doesn't save any emissions, it can even lead to more CO₂ emissions, because then it pays to fly detours," says Lufthansa.

Climate experts and environmental politicians pissed off this argument: "It cannot be that Lufthansa is publicly wearing a climate protection cloak and apparently lobbying massively against climate protection in air traffic from behind," explains Lena Donat, transport expert at Germanwatch, to SPIEGEL. There could be no question of “burdens” at the moment: “No mode of transport is as harmful to the climate and at the same time enjoys such massive tax advantages over other modes of transport as airplanes.” but need binding state regulations.

EU environmental politicians also criticize the anti-climate lobbying: "This report shows the hypocrisy of the aviation industry," says Ciarán Cuffe, Irish Green MEP in the European Parliament. "Instead of binding regulation, the airlines rely entirely on ineffective CO₂ compensation systems that enable them to continue pollution." On the other hand, they would gladly accept the billions in taxpayers' money for nothing in return for sustainability or employee protection.

But the lobbying of the airlines is likely to continue - because there is enough money for it. Last year, the airlines in Brussels spent up to 200,000 euros on lobbying activities for the relatively small initiative Airline Coordination Platform alone. The five largest airline associations and the aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus spend around seven million euros annually on lobbying.

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2021-06-10

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