In the corridors of Brussels, where climate policy debates are rife, aviation stands out as a daunting challenge that often takes a backseat. While issues like farming practices and heat pumps have dominated discussions and even led to policy standstills, the aviation sector’s substantial carbon footprint continues to grow largely unchecked. The reluctance to address this significant emitter stems from a belief among policymakers that decarbonizing aviation is both challenging and politically unpopular.

This hesitancy has not only hindered progress but also eroded public trust. Many Europeans view their leaders as adept at ‘talking the talk’ on climate change but faltering when it comes to ‘walking the walk.’ The sight of private jets lining the tarmacs during annual climate meetings, juxtaposed against the pressing need for climate action, exemplifies this perceived hypocrisy. As a result, there’s a growing sentiment that decisive action on aviation emissions is long overdue and that policymakers must move beyond mere rhetoric to implement tangible solutions.

Public Opinion: The Disconnect with Private Jets

For many Europeans concerned about climate change, the juxtaposition of private jets at airports during annual COP climate meetings serves as a stark reminder of the disparity between words and actions. This sight is often seen as emblematic of the climate hypocrisy that pervades public perception. While leaders convene to discuss global warming and pledge ambitious climate goals, the presence of these high-emission luxury aircraft paints a contradictory picture.

Public opinion research underscores this disconnect, revealing a prevailing sentiment that leaders are falling short in their climate commitments. The public’s frustration is palpable, viewing the private jet phenomenon as a prime example of politicians and elites ‘talking the talk’ on climate action while failing to ‘walk the walk.’ This discrepancy not only undermines trust in leadership but also fuels skepticism about the sincerity and effectiveness of climate initiatives. As a result, there’s a growing call for greater accountability and transparency, urging leaders to align their actions with their climate rhetoric to regain public confidence and credibility.

‘Europe Talks Flying’ Report: A New Perspective

The ‘Europe Talks Flying’ report by More in Common offers fresh insights into decarbonizing aviation. Based on polling and focus groups involving 12,000 Europeans across six countries, the report suggests that decarbonizing aviation is not as daunting as perceived. It outlines a path to engage the public effectively and address policy challenges.

Sequencing: Addressing High Polluters First

Getting the sequencing of climate aviation policies right is crucial. The public is ready to target those who pollute the most through flying. Starting with actions on private jets, followed by first or business class flyers, and then broader groups can garner public support. Current plans like the revised Emissions Trading Scheme 2, which focuses on short-haul flights but neglects intercontinental travel, risk getting this sequencing wrong.

Tackling Anti-Elite Sentiment: Fair Contribution from Private Jet Users

Anti-elite sentiment is growing across Europe, often channeled by anti-net-zero populist movements. However, this sentiment can be harnessed constructively. The research suggests that targeting private jet users to bear the costs of climate transition, while others face cost of living crises, can be a fair approach. A majority of the public believes it’s inappropriate for footballers and politicians to fly domestically, reflecting the desire for fairness in climate policies.

Airlines’ Role and Public Trust

Airlines are expected to play their part in climate action. However, public trust in airlines’ transparency regarding their climate impacts is low. The public demands more transparency, and measures to enforce this transparency receive strong support. Airlines need to step up their efforts, not only in reducing emissions but also in being transparent about their environmental impact.

Incentivizing Alternatives: Making Trains Competitive

To successfully decarbonize aviation, it’s crucial to offer attractive and accessible alternatives. Public sentiment strongly favors making train travel as affordable as flying, highlighting a clear preference for sustainable transportation options. Many Europeans are even willing to see flying become more expensive if it means funding cheaper and more accessible train journeys. This shift in perspective underscores the importance of policy initiatives that prioritize and promote greener travel alternatives.

By making train journeys competitive in terms of both cost and convenience, policymakers can encourage a significant shift in consumer behavior. Investing in efficient rail infrastructure, expanding routes, and improving connectivity can further enhance the appeal of train travel. As the public becomes increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint, providing viable alternatives to flying will not only reduce emissions but also meet growing demand for sustainable travel options.

Conclusion: Embracing the Challenge for a Greener Future

Decarbonizing aviation presents challenges, but also opportunities. By targeting high polluters, sequencing policies effectively, addressing anti-elite sentiment, and ensuring transparency, policymakers can garner public support for climate action in the aviation sector. With the public willing to embrace changes if implemented fairly, there is a real opportunity for policymakers to lead the way in showing how a broader green transition can be achieved. Instead of avoiding the debate, politicians should embrace the challenge, demonstrating their commitment to a sustainable future.