IATA, airlines keep the sustainable travel conversation going

TORONTO — Global air travel generates about 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a small number, but airlines are a big target, and that was clear this year especially as carriers announced new measures to help reduce their carbon footprint.

One of the early leaders in efforts to encourage sustainable travel, Lufthansa Group, announced that starting January 2020 corporate customers can fly CO2-neutral on Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian Airlines flights in Europe, with carbon offsetting automatically included in fares.

Lufthansa Group added that it’s working on a tariff option without CO2 compensation for those companies that already have their own initiatives.

“The Lufthansa Group takes its responsibility for the environment very seriously and has already taken many initiatives to reduce the CO2 emissions of its aircraft. With the new Lufthansa Group Corporate Value Fares, we are now taking the next step and offering our corporate customers in all European markets an innovative solution for sustainable mobility. We have already made our own business air travel CO2-neutral,” says Heike Birlenbach, Senior Vice President Sales Lufthansa Group Network Airlines and Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) Hub Frankfurt.

Another leader is KLM. The airline marked its 100th anniversary in 2019 with a commitment to keep the planet healthy for many more. Sustainability has been a core focus for the airline for a long time and that commitment has ramped up in recent years.

KLM has a Fly Responsibly campaign and also has a Carbon Reduction Roadmap. The company’s current goal is to reduce the CO₂ per passenger with 20% by 2020 (in comparison to 2011). The airline is on track: by the end of 2018, it had already reduced its carbon emissions by 17%. By 2030, the company is aiming for a reduction of 15% of its total CO₂ footprint, compared to 2005.


As airlines come under the climate change microscope, IATA is working to get the word out about what the aviation industry is doing to cut back on its carbon emissions.

Earlier this month IATA published information confirming that carbon emissions per passenger have declined by more than 50% since 1990. Much of the improvement has occurred because the industry has achieved an annual fuel efficiency improvement of 2.3% over the period since 2009, some 0.8 percentage points ahead of target, said IATA.

“Cutting per passenger emissions in half is an amazing achievement of the technical expertise and innovation in the aviation industry. But we have even bigger ambitions. From 2020 we will cap net emissions. And by 2050 we will cut emissions to half 2005 levels. Accomplishing these targets means continued investment in new technology, sustainable fuels, and operational improvements,” said IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.

De Juniac added that efforts to deliberately suppress air travel through punitive passenger taxes are inefficient and largely ineffective at reducing carbon.

“Taxation aimed at stopping people from exercising their freedom to fly will make travel more expensive but do very little to reduce emissions,” he said. “It is a politician’s feel-good solution, without taking responsibility for the negative impact it has on the economy or the mobility restrictions it imposes on people with lower incomes.”

IATA says long-term, aviation is aiming to reduce emissions with cleaner technology, and that will require a financially sound airline sector capable of funding the significant investments that will be needed to make flying sustainable.

“Governments must focus their efforts correctly,” said de Juniac. “Flying drives prosperity. It is not the enemy. Cutting carbon must at the forefront. And government leadership is needed to incentivize the commercialization of sustainable aviation fuels, drive efficiencies in air traffic management and support research into next generation low-carbon energy sources.”


It wasn’t just airlines examining their carbon footprint in 2019. The travel industry, and hotels and resorts in particular, moved to ban single-use plastics.

Major hotel companies including Marriott, Hyatt and IHG announced they would shift to large, multi-use bottles for shampoo and other toiletries in their hotel rooms in an effort to reduce waste.

And travel companies including Intrepid and G Adventures continued their decades-long efforts to get the word out about climate change and responsible travel, including new policies to helping to protect animal welfare on trips.

Watch for more year-end coverage in Travelweek Daily on Dec. 31st with a fun look at the best oddball stories of the year.