Greenpeace France “greenwash” an AirFrance plane at Charles de Gaulle airport

Greenpeace France activists got onto the tarmac at Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport to denounce the government’s greenwashing of aviation. They painted the side of an AirFrance plane green – greenwashing it. They say we need to reduce air travel, in order to be compatible the Paris Agreement targets.  This comes a few days before the start of parliamentary debates on the “Climate and Resilience” bill. Greenpeace says airport expansion must be stopped – several French airports have such plans at present. They say now only should flights be replaced by rail journeys if the train time is under 2hours 30 minutes, but when the trip is under 6 hours.  Greenpeace is not against novel technologies, but they say these will not be enough to make a sufficient difference, in the necessary timescale. The proposed technical solutions are a risk, as they delay real action. They explain why biofuels, hydrogen planes, or electric planes are not going to cut aviation emissions any time soon, if ever.  Synthetic fuels made from surplus renewably generated electricity offer a small potential, but they will be expensive and only produced in small amounts. So air travel needs to be regulated and reduced.



The green plane will not save the climate

Greenpeace France – Action
March 5, 2021

Translation into English. See the original French 

Greenpeace stunt as aircraft painted green in protest over France's climate crisis response

And see links to some videos of the activists painting the plane at

This morning, Greenpeace activists entered the tarmac at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport to denounce the government’s greenwashing on air transport. Faced with the climate crisis, it is necessary to regulate and reduce air traffic so that it is compatible with the Paris Agreement, while anticipating the reconversion of this sector and the social consequences that this would have for all workers. and affected workers.

A few days before the start of parliamentary debates on the “Climate and Resilience” bill, we would like to firmly remind you that the technological innovations so much praised by the Minister for Transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, will not be enough to stem the climate crisis. The regulation and reduction of air traffic are essential. At present, the measures proposed in the bill on this subject are far from up to the mark. Especially :

Airport extensions : they would still be possible, while these climatic aberrations must be abandoned. In France, more than ten such projects are already planned at the moment and would not be affected by the current bill!

Abolition of short flights : they would only take place when an alternative by train of 2h30 maximum exists. For a real benefit for the climate, flights for which an alternative train of 6 hours maximum exists must be canceled.

Development of rail alternatives : there is simply nothing new on this subject in the bill, while we need to speed up the relaunch of the rail offer, so that the train is a solid and accessible alternative everyone.

The bill is also very insufficient on the issues of taxation of the aviation sector and gives pride of place to the logic of carbon offsetting which provides a loophole for the aviation sector, while all sectors must in fact reduce their emissions in the air transport sector. absolute.

To find out more, read our note: Climate: greening planes will not be enough .

Why is the green plane not enough?

Let’s agree: we are not against technological innovations, contrary to what some people try to make believe. We are simply saying that they will not be enough to solve the climate crisis. Some false solutions even represent an additional risk for the climate. We tell you why.

There are different types of “green” planes. We have listed below the most frequently highlighted technological innovations as well as the main reasons why they cannot be presented as miracle solutions.

The plane that runs on agrofuels

First generation agrofuels, made from agricultural raw materials, are the only ones that can be produced today in sufficient quantities to meet the growing demand from different sectors. However, biodiesel, the most widely used biofuel in Europe, is produced with vegetable oils (palm, soybean, rapeseed, etc.), which exerts intolerable pressure on agricultural land and precious ecosystems . This demand is the main driver of deforestation in Southeast Asia and aggravates the climate crisis. Moreover, by grabbing agricultural land, the production of agrofuels comes into direct competition with that of food, which represents an aggravating factor for food insecurity and inequalities at the global level.

So-called “advanced” technologies (to produce agrofuels from organic or municipal waste, for example) are now a myth. They are not up to date and do not in any way make it possible to produce the volumes necessary to take over from conventional fuels and meet the demand of all the sectors concerned.

The hydrogen plane

This option, strongly put forward in the public debate by the government and part of the aeronautics industry, may raise questions: if in theory it can be produced from renewable electricity, hydrogen is today mainly manufactured at from fossil materials, and its production currently emits a lot of greenhouse gases.

This option also comes up against significant technical challenges such as the storage of hydrogen in airplanes and in airports, which would take up much more space than that of kerosene.

In addition, hydrogen would for the moment be studied only for the replacement of the A320 and for short / medium-haul flights and would not be considered at this stage for long-haul flights, which nevertheless represent the majority. greenhouse gas emissions …

The electric plane

According to the BL evolution report , the deployment of the electric aircraft is hampered in particular by the weight of the batteries “which greatly increase the weight of the aircraft and therefore reduce the distances that can be traveled with the same amount of energy.”

The plane that runs on synthetic fuels

Two points of vigilance are highlighted in particular in the BL evolution report : the low overall energy yield of the complex process for producing these synthetic fuels, and the still very limited manufacture of synthetic fuels from “green” hydrogen ( same problem as for the hydrogen airplane mentioned above).

The development and deployment of a “green” aircraft, in particular because of the uncertainties and technical difficulties mentioned above, cannot therefore be taken for granted and will, in all cases, take time. Regarding the hydrogen aircraft, the Airbus group has committed to marketing by 2035 (at best). However, the climate crisis is now playing out, and it is now that the various sectors must reduce their emissions to avoid a climatic runaway.

In addition, whatever “green” aircraft we are offered, it will not provide a miracle solution to absorb the volume and growth in air traffic that we experienced before the Covid crisis, due in particular to the issues of resource availability (land, biomass, renewable electricity, etc.) and competition with other uses and sectors.


See earlier:


Air France’s bailout ‘climate conditions’ and possible future aviation taxes

The state bail out of Air France by the French government earlier in the year got a lot of publicity. Some of the conditions looked as if they could be effective in cutting emissions. Now the restrictions on air travel look set to continue for many more months, airline finances and state help need to be reassessed. The pandemic has been a unique opportunity to shrink the sector, and insist that it takes effective action in future to significantly cut its carbon emissions. The NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) have assessed the potential effectiveness of the conditions, and are not impressed.  They say the Air France conditions included improving fuel efficiency (which it will do anyway, to save money); also removing the shortest flights (which will have minimal impact on the airline’s overall emissions). And use of low carbon novel fuels, but if first generation biofuels were used, this would increase – not cut – CO2 emissions. Last T&E says the climate conditions attached to the bailout are not legally binding, leaving it to the good will of Air France. Each condition should be made mandatory, with clear financial penalties for failure to comply. The French government has now proposed reasonably high taxes on flights, of €30 for economy short haul, and €60 economy long haul (>2,000km) but this has to be approved by the political process.

“The climate crisis can’t be solved by ‘net-zero’ carbon accounting tricks” like offsets

We are all being encouraged to put our faith in pledges to become “net zero” by 2050, or some other date. Or “carbon neutral.”  But that does not mean zero carbon. It just means every sector of every country in the world needs to be, on average, zero emissions. For some sectors, including air travel and some agricultural emissions, there is no prospect of getting to zero emissions in the near future.  Prof Simon Lewis explains why the current “net zero” claims often involve very dubious claims and practices: “the new politics swirling around net zero targets is rapidly becoming a confusing and dangerous mix of pragmatism, self-delusion and weapons-grade greenwash.” What is needed is actual removal of carbon from the air. Not just hoping to stop some future emission.  But there is far too little land to plant enough trees to counter today’s emissions, and large-scale hi-tech methods do not yet exist. He says: “Emitting carbon at the same time as building solar capability does not equal zero emissions overall. Offsetting needs to be used to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to counter difficult-to-remove emissions, and not just be an enabler of business-as-nearly-usual.” Read the full, very important, article.

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Fuels made from renewably sourced electricity the ONLY way to keep flying in future

Two experts from New Zealand have written about the future of low carbon air travel. Aviation is a problem for NZ due to its geographic position. But the experts say “the global 1.5C target allows no room for fossil fuelled commercial aviation by 2050. So the public, the aviation and tourism industries, and the government must turn their attention to first capping and then reducing emissions.” They consider the only viable option for air travel is fuels made from surplus electricity. NZ has plentiful wind and sun (most countries do not have as much) to make this potentially possible – though huge amounts of electricity would be needed, competing with other increasing uses. The other key tool is to greatly increase the cost of carbon.  This is currently around $ NZ 39 per tonne CO2, and the Air New Zealand offset price is just $23. The price needs to rise to at least $ NZ 140/tCO2 by 2030. Even that would have little impact on air travel demand. The NZ Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) recommends a distance-based departure charge like the UK’s APD. They say hopes of electric planes, or hydrogen, “will not arrive fast enough nor scale up quickly enough, and mainly serve to delay action now.”

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Airport expansion plans show that local planning decisions on airports must be aligned with national carbon targets

Aviation CO2 accounted for 7% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, but this figure will inevitably grow if demand for air travel is allowed to increase. Allowing more demand means it would be even harder to meet UK carbon targets, as there are no realistic ways to reduce aviation emissions, other than by tiny amounts several decades ahead. Better infrastructure planning is needed in the UK, with local decisions aligned towards meeting national climate targets; currently they are not.  France has blocked the building of a 4th terminal at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, on grounds of carbon emissions. But UK airport expansion plans contradict its climate commitments, with expansion plans pushing ahead fast – while there is still no coherent UK policy on aviation carbon.  Plans for new building at Leeds Bradford, Southampton, Bristol, Luton, Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow would mean far, far more carbon being emitted by the extra flights and passengers generated than the UK aviation passenger limit – advised by the Committee on Climate Change.  Demand needs to be reduced.  The government should align its national policy statements, used to guide planning, with its net zero target, to compel local authorities to factor climate change into their infrastructure decisions.

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