THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS SUSTAINABLE FLYING 

 

KLM’s misleading ads make us believe that we can fly sustainably. But this is an illusion. That’s why we are taking KLM to court.

 

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KLM, STOP MISLEADING US!

We want an end to KLM's misleading advertisements about 'sustainable flying'. That's why we're taking KLM to court. 

KLM's marketing makes us believe that that flying won’t worsen the climate emergency. But carbon offsets, biofuels and promises of future technologies are false solutions – there's no such thing as sustainable flying.

KLM wants to expand its business, while the truth is that the airline industry needs to reduce flights to keep a just, liveable world within reach.

Sign the petition to support the lawsuit against KLM's misleading ads.

  

Support the lawsuit against KLM’s misleading ads 👇


KLM's misleading advertising leads consumers to believe that flying won’t worsen the climate emergency. But this is an illusion. That is why we are taking KLM to court.

KLM's marketing tries to convince us we can fly sustainably. According to KLM, customers can offset their flight’s emissions if they pay extra for tree planting or what KLM calls “sustainable” biofuels for its jets. But carbon offsets, biofuels and promises of future technology are false solutions, promoted to reassure people that they can “fly responsibly". These 'solutions' simply can’t make flying sustainable.

KLM is planning to expand its business with more flights – like all airlines worldwide – while aggressively lobbying against climate action. But the truth is that the number of flights overall have to be reduced. The coming years are crucial: emissions – including from aviation – must be reduced now to keep a just, liveable world within reach. It is unjust that a small group of people who fly frequently continue to fuel climate breakdown, while the impacts of a hotter planet are mainly felt by people with less money, people in the Global South and future generations.

We are going to court to demand that KLM stops misleading ys. It's time for KLM to tell the truth about their fossil-fueled product: flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. And we demand that KLM stops misleading us by claiming that carbon offsetting and alternative fuels can make flying sustainable.

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*On the 24th of May 2022 we handed over our demands to KLM. If they won't change their marketing and won't stop misleading us, we will take this case to court.

Support the lawsuit against KLM’s misleading ads 👇

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Why are you taking KLM to court?

KLM’s misleading advertising lead us to believe that flying won’t worsen the climate emergency. But this is an illusion. That is why we are taking KLM to court.

According to KLM, customers can offset their flight’s emissions if they pay extra for tree planting or what KLM calls “sustainable” biofuels for its jets. But carbon offsets, biofuels and promises of future technology are false solutions, promoted to reassure people that they can “fly responsibly”. These ‘solutions’ simply can’t make flying sustainable.

KLM is planning to expand its business with more flights – like all airlines worldwide – while aggressively lobbying against climate action. But the truth is that the number of flights overall have to be reduced.

The coming years are crucial: emissions – including from aviation – must be reduced now to keep a just, liveable world within reach. It is unjust that a small group of people who fly frequently continue to fuel climate breakdown, while the impacts of a hotter planet are mainly felt by people with less money, people in the Global South and future generations.

We are going to court to demand that KLM stops misleading us. It’s time for KLM to tell the truth about their fossil-fueled product: Flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. And we demand that KLM stops misleading us by claiming that carbon offsetting and alternative fuels can make flying sustainable.

 

KLM’s claims debunked

Claim 1: Sustainable aviation is possible

KLM would have us believe that we are on our way to sustainable aviation. KLM’s ‘solutions’ to reduce climate damage – such as bio and synthetic fuels, improved engines and other new technologies – are not capable of making flying sustainable. All these ideas are in reality too limited or too far in the future, or both.

The truth is that the number of flights must be reduced. The next few years are crucial: emissions – including those from aviation – must come down now to keep a just, livable world within reach.

 

Claim 2: CO2 compensation undoes the climate impact of flying

KLM suggests that emissions from flying can be compensated by planting trees. But it is not an either-or situation. We can only prevent dangerous climate change by both reducing our emissions as quickly as possible and by taking care of forests. We can’t rely on trees in place of reducing emissions.

Moreover, it is uncertain whether the planted trees will actually continue to store CO2 in the future. In a world that is changing due to climate change, forest fires, droughts and tree mortality are more likely to occur.

Claim 3: ‘Sustainable aviation fuels’ can replace fossil fuels

For years, KLM has been claiming that replacing fossil fuels with alternative fuels is the most important way to reduce emissions. But in 2021 KLM used only 0,18% alternative fuels.

Large-scale production of alternative fuels is simply not possible: there are insufficient sustainable resources available. Moreover, all other harmful, non-CO2 climate effects won’t be prevented by its use.

Join the campaign

To stop misleadings ads like KLM’s, we need your help. Here’s what you can do:

If thousands of people support our lawsuit, we can show there’s a lot of support for our campaign, and we can build a strong movement that fights aviation’s greenwashing. Sign and share the petition!
Sign up for email updates, so we can keep you up to date. We will organise online and offline actions.
Do you see a misleading ad from an airline or another polluter? Then make a screenshot and share it on social media with #BanFossilAds and #StopMisleadingUs. That way, more and more people will be able to see that it’s greenwashing.
With your support we can counter KLM’s misleading ads and lobby, and make sure everyone hears the truth about aviation. Chip in now to power our work.

Who we are

The lawsuit against KLM’s misleading advertising will be filed in the name of Fossielvrij NL, and we work closely together with Reclame Fossielvrij and ClientEarth.

Fossielvrij NL strives for a world in ecological and social balance, rooted in justice and liberated from the fossil fuel industry. Fossielvrij NL builds a people-powered movement that breaks the power of the fossil industry. This way we speed up the transition to a liveable and just society with 100% renewable energy in the hands of communities.
ClientEarth is an organisation that uses law to protect the planet and the people who live on it. ClientEarth is a team of lawyers and environmental experts fighting against climate change, and for the protection of nature and the environment.
Reclame Fossielvrij (Fossil Free Advertising) is a campaign group that calls for a tobacco-style legal ban on fossil fuel advertising and sponsorships. This includes all advertising by the fossil fuel industry and by airlines.

 

Questions about the lawsuit

Airlines like KLM mislead us into boarding under the guise of sustainability. As a result,  people think they can continue to fly with peace of mind and politicians fail to implement effective climate policies. As a result, aviation continues to grow and is even fueled by it. The greenwashing of KLM and the broader aviation sector is therefore exacerbating the climate crisis. With this lawsuit, we can put an end to KLM’s deception.

In addition, this case – if we win – will be groundbreaking at home and abroad: never before has an airline been forced by the courts to stop making misleading claims about sustainable flying. Our case can therefore cause a ripple effect around the world: with a court ruling in hand, we can set a new standard for misleading advertisements in aviation, which airline companies will have to take into account. Other groups and organizations could also rely on the ruling. In addition, we can inspire people worldwide to also take action against deception and for real, just climate solutions.

Our lawyers are Frank Peters and Anita van Wees of bureau Brandeis. They specialise in class actions, and have a lot of experience in the field of climate law.

In addition, ClientEarth is our partner in this case. They too are lawyers, and use the law to protect all life on earth. They are involved in landmark legal actions against greenwashing in many countries, such as in France against Total and in the UK against BP.

  1. We want KLM to stop their Fly Responsibly campaign and similar green marketing. These are all the ads KLM uses to try to convince customers that they can book a ticket without worries.
  2. We want KLM to stop claiming that climate damage can be undone by offsetting. We need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible by flying less, and we also need trees to recapture CO2 from the air: the one cannot be cancelled out against the other.
  3. We want a clear warning text on KLM’s website that makes clear what the climate impact of flying is.

Read here the letter with our demands we handed over to KLM during the shareholders’ meeting on 24 May 2022.

The court process can be long and the timing of verdicts difficult to predict, but we hope to get a decision in 2023. First, the judge will assess whether we have ‘standing’ and are actually allowed to conduct this case. Only then will the substantive hearing of the case take place.

If we win, we get a court ruling with a clear message to KLM and other airline companies. If the judge agrees with us, this will create an enforceable responsibility for KLM to stop misleading advertisements, and to tell the truth about flying’s climate impact.

In case of loss: first of all, we will do our utmost to not lose this case. But if it should happen, we will have the opportunity to appeal. We will also continue to try to achieve our goal by putting pressure on KLM and politicians in other ways. For example, together with Reclame Fossielvrij and ClientEarth we are fighting for a ban on fossil advertisements, so that airline companies can no longer advertise air travel at all.

We are going to court instead of the Dutch Advertising Code Committee (RCC) because we want a binding ruling. As a member of the public, it is possible to go to the Advertising Code Committee, but it only gives non-binding recommendations: so a company is not obliged to comply with the ruling.

Secondly, we want the whole scope of the advertisements to be looked at. The Advertising Code Committee only looks at specific expressions and wording. Now KLM can continue with misleading advertisements by only replacing certain words, while the message remains the same.

For example, the Advertising Code Committee recently ruled in favor of complainants Eric Stam and others, saying that KLM is misleading by calling their flights CO2-neutral or CO2-Zero. The commission advised KLM to stop doing this. But although KLM is now no longer allowed to say that flying is CO2 neutral, the company continues to say that a consumer can offset the emissions from their share of a flight. KLM also continues to use the name ‘CO2ZERO’, while this wording is misleading according to the Advertising Code Committee. Despite the verdict of the Advertising Code Committee, the misleading advertising does not stop.

We need a clear ruling on the law from the judge, which KLM will have to obey, instead of having to go to the Advertising Code Committee for small textual changes after the greenwashing has taken place. We simply do not have the time to make a cat-and-mouse game of it: the urgency of the climate crisis is too great for that.

Moreover, if there is a court ruling, other airlines will also have to take this into account. And what if they don’t? Then a court ruling will help other groups – at home and abroad – to also challenge this deception.

  1. Sign and share the petition. If thousands of people support our lawsuit, we can show that there is strong support for our campaign, and we can build a strong movement that fights the misleading advertising by the aviation industry.
  2. Donate to make our work possible. With your support we can challenge KLM’s misleading marketing and lobby, and make sure everyone knows the truth about aviation.
  3. Join online and offline actions. Sign up for email updates, and we’ll keep you informed about how to get involved.

We’d be happy to get in touch with you! Send us an email at [email protected]

Questions about KLM’s misleading ads

We must quickly reduce our emissions and the use of fossil fuels to avoid a climate catastrophe. Aviation is a major user of fossil fuels. For example, a Boeing 747 burns 190,000 liters of kerosene for a long-haul flight: that’s four bathtubs full of kerosene per passenger.  Although we’ve known about the need to address climate change for decades, the aviation industry has totally failed to cut its emission to date. Instead the aviation industry has overseen a rapidly growing climate impact.

KLM now claims that ‘together we are on the road to sustainable aviation’. As well as an invitation to buy flights from KLM, this suggests that it is going to be possible to fly sustainably in the coming decades, and so we are enticed to board with confidence. But the solutions KLM mentions for sustainable flying are not yet available or simply not feasible:

  • Biofuels cannot be scaled up;
  • There is totally insufficient renewable energy available to fly on synthetic fuels or hydrogen;
  • It is not technically possible to fly long distances electrically with large numbers of people.

In addition, there are still few solutions for the other harmful climate effects caused by aviation, the so-called non-CO2 effects, such as nitrogen oxides and condensation streaks from water vapor and the formation of high clouds. Researchers estimate that these other effects warm the climate about three times more than CO2 emissions, meaning that flying’s CO2 emissions effectively need to be multiplied by 3.  But airlines aren’t yet even counting these non-CO2 effects.

No single ‘solution’ or new technology can bring aviation within climate limits in time – even if they are all deployed simultaneously. The only way aviation can reduce emissions at the rate needed is to fly less. But KLM and the airline industry remain committed to ‘business as usual’ growth.

No, not in the near future, and not for the scale and distances we fly now.  ‘Sustainable aviation fuels’, new fossil fuel powered aircraft, hydrogen and electric planes all make exciting marketing gimmicks.  But they won’t make flying sustainable. Read here more about why KLM’s ‘solutions’ do not work.

Perhaps in the long-term new techniques will be developed to fly sustainably and we may reach a world with plentiful excess renewable energy, but that is too late to secure a liveable future according to climate science.

Significant reductions are needed now to prevent dangerous climate change. This is why KLM misleads us by suggesting that we are on our way to sustainable aviation – this is not the case yet, it is very uncertain whether it will ever be so and for climate goals it is now or never.

KLM considers improving energy efficiency (such as new aircraft with more fuel-efficient engines) an important part of becoming sustainable, but this yields only a very small reduction in CO2 emissions and is becoming harder as the gains are smaller.

Moreover, the small savings have always been be negated by the constant growth of aviation, and KLM and the industry plans to continue that growth. Emissions per passenger may go down slightly, but total emissions may even increase if more people start flying. Therefore, it is still necessary to fly less.

KLM offers customers the option of voluntary “CO2 offsetting.” With this, KLM buys certificates from trees that have been planted in Panama in the past. These trees are said to absorb CO2, and thus can “reduce the impact of the flight”.

CO2 offsetting suggests that it is possible to offset CO2 processes against each other: the emissions that certainly occur by flying, and the uncertain absorption of greenhouse gases by trees. But that claimed ‘equivalence’ is a fiction. After all, forests can burn down or be affected by climate change, making them less able to absorb CO2, if at all. No one can guarantee that CO2 offsetting will remove CO2 from the air for hundreds of years, while we can be sure that greenhouse gases from flying will enter the atmosphere and cause damage for hundreds if not thousands of years.

With the CO2 offset claim, KLM is misleading us that planting trees can substitute for reducing our emissions, when this is not in line with what climate science says is needed. Right now we are rapidly eating up the remaining carbon budget – the emissions that are still possible to limit the temperature to 1.5 degrees and thus prevent dangerous climate change. We are heading for over 3 degrees of warming at the end of the century. We must both plant trees to absorb CO2 and reduce emissions as much as possible; it is not a question of either/or.

Finally, KLM does not acknowledge that CO2 compensation by flying also causes emissions and warming in other ways, such as cloud formation and water vapor. KLM says: “There is no scientific consensus yet on exactly how big the effect is besides CO2. That’s why we don’t include it.” But we know the non-CO2 effects are much larger than the CO2 effects, and the climate obviously does include these impacts.

CO2 offsets do not compensate for the climate damage caused by air travel, but there are more problems with these programs.

For example, reforestation and forest protection projects often take place in the Global South because it is cheaper to implement such projects there. This often results in indigenous communities – who have been managing the forest the way their ancestors did for centuries – being chased off their land. Many indigenous groups therefore call compensation programs climate colonialism.

1% of people who fly cause 50% of total aviation emissions. It is unjust that for the frequent flying of wealthy people, communities in the Global South are saddled with the burden.

KLM advocates “moderate growth” in media appearances and in its own annual report, claiming that it needs growth to become more sustainable – even if it leads to more emissions in the short term. Otherwise, KLM says, the company would not be able to pay for sustainability.

KLM is not alone in this: the entire aviation sector has always been committed to growth. The international organization for cooperating airlines, IATA, assumes that aviation will grow by an average of 3.5% per year until 2037, which means that the number of passengers will even double by that time. This growth will negate the benefits achieved by flying more efficiently, and will go beyond this to increase emissions.

KLM emphasises that it is gradually reducing emissions per passenger. For example, the company wants to reduce emissions per passenger by 30% by 2030 compared to 2019. But this statistic conceals more than it reveals – if more people start flying longer distances at the same time, the overall emissions can go up and climate will not benefit. Moreover, the aviation industry is engaged in fierce competition, so money will be invested in keeping ticket prices low rather than in sustainability.

This graph shows the absolute CO2 emissions of KLM. Only the corona crisis has had a substantial impact on reducing CO2 emissions.

KLM presents itself as a leader in sustainable flying, but uses intensive lobbying techniques to block climate policy. The goal? To continue to grow, while at the same time keeping emissions high.

KLM is lobbying against ending exemptions for taxes on kerosene and against taxes on airline tickets. KLM is also trying to keep the percentage of biofuels that must be refueled by the EU as low as possible. Finally, KLM is working against the plan to bring aviation within the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) – a CO2 price for aviation. They are instead advocating the alternative, and much “softer” CORSIA offsetting system, which they in turn also want to make less stringent.

Of all the airlines, Air France-KLM spends the very most on lobbying in Brussels and elsewhere, with around a million euros in 2019-2020.

Flying is one of the fastest ways to heat the planet. All the (necessary) steps that aviation can and should take are incapable of preventing aviation from contributing to dangerous climate change. It is therefore essential to reduce the number of flights, in the short term.

We believe that KLM should honestly communicate this message and stop misleading (potential) customers. As UN Secretary General Guterres says: “You cannot claim to be green while your plans and projects undermine the 2050 net-zero target and ignore the major emissions cuts that must occur this decade.”

The government must take structural measures to reduce the number of flights. That is why we advocate a ban on fossil advertisements, such as those of KLM. This will prevent airlines from misleading customers and delaying climate action, while in the meantime continuing to fuel a climate catastrophe. Until that ban is in place, we will have to take KLM and other misleading airlines to court to make sure they stop misleading us.

 

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