Questions of climate (in-)justice

As the Kipppunkt Kolektiv we ask questions of climate (in-)justice. A study that was recently released was prompt for this blog post, looking at the injustice of air travel.


Before the Covid 19 pandemic global aviation’s contribution to climate change was steadily rising, with C02 emissions from this sector increasing 32% between 2013 and 2018 (1). And although the pandemic brought about a reduction of passenger numbers by 50% in 2020 (1) the industry expects to return to previous levels of flight numbers by 2024 (2). Now is thus a crucial point in time to discuss air travel, its implication for climate justice and its future. In their recent study Gössling & Humpe (2020) find that frequently flying “super emitters” caused as much as half of the aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. These “super emitters” represent only 1% of the world population. In the same year only 11% percent of the global population took a flight at all and only 4% of those were international flights (2). These numbers are the best example for the blatant injustice of climate change, where the luxury of so few contributes so much to the climate crises affecting everyone. These injustices run along lines of the global North and the global South, with North Americans flying on average 50 times more kilometres than Africans in 2018, 10 times more than those in the Asia-Pacific region and 7.5 times more than Latin Americans (2). As Dan Rutherford of the International Council on Clean Transportation puts it: “The benefits of aviation are more inequitably shared across the world than probably any other major emission source.”(3) . But also within countries there is an elite of wealthier people that fly much more than the majority of their fellow citizens. Gössling & Humpe (2020) show: 53% of the US population, 65% in Germany and 66% in Taiwan did not fly at all in 2018. While poor people in the Global South carry the burden of the emissions caused by aviation, descending on them as the various catastrophes brought about by the climate crisis, a small number of rich people in the global North enjoy the luxury of air travel. To make it even more absurd other research by Gössling found that half of the leisure flights weren’t considered necessary, even by the travellers themselves and largely motivated by low cost of flights (4). This brings up serious questions about subsidies for aviation businesses, taxing of the transport sector and the neoliberalism itself. Stefan Gössling is quoted in the Guardian: “If you want to resolve climate change and we need to redesign [aviation], then we should start at the top, where a few ‘super emitters’ contribute massively to global warming.”, adding “The rich have had far too much freedom to design the planet according to their wishes.” (2).


1)Topham, G. (2019, September 19). Airlines' CO2 emissions rising up to 70% faster than predicted. The Guardian. 2)Gössling, S., & Humpe, A. (2020). The global scale, distribution and growth of aviation: Implications for climate change. Global Environmental Change, 65, 102194. 3)Carrington, D. (2020, November 17). 1% of people cause half of global aviation emissions – study. The Guardian. 4)Gössling, S., Hanna, P., Higham, J., Cohen, S., & Hopkins, D. (2019). Can we fly less? Evaluating the ‘necessity’ of air travel. Journal of Air Transport Management, 81, 101722.

Berlin, 20. November 2020