Spotlight on Aussie Airlines after KLM is ruled to have misled customers on sustainability

A Qantas Boeing B737-838, registration VH-VXO, taxis from the domestic terminal to the third runway of Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport, heading to Brisbane as flight QF520.  In the background is the old air traffic control tower, next to the main north-south runway.  In the far distance are residential districts. This image was taken from Shep’s Mound at midday on a cloudy, windy and stormy day on 7 May 2023.

Australian airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia have been warned to pay attention after Dutch airline KLM was found to have misled customers with its sustainability claims.

Last month a Dutch court ruled that airline KLM misled customers with vague environmental claims. The court found its affirmation of achieving goals in line with the Paris Agreement was “misleading” and “unlawful”.

Of KLM’s 19 environmental ambitions, 15 were found to be misleading, with the Court deciding that the airline’s marketing about carbon offsetting flights and sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) painted “too rosy a picture”.

Following the landmark ruling, Australian airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia have been warned by a new advocacy group to pay close attention.

Speaking to The Guardian, Claire Snyder, the director of the new advocacy group Climate Integrity, said that “the ruling is a timely wake-up call to airlines with public net zero commitments, that they must put forward concrete and credible decarbonisation plans or face the legal risk of misleading consumers and investors.”

The group Snyder heads recently conducted an analysis which found that Qantas’s decarbonisation plans featured several “low integrity” practices.

Qantas had moved early to implement the Paris Agreement, however, Climate Integrity found that it had no “comprehensive, full-costed or independently verified plan for reducing their emissions in line with a scientific pathway”.

Commenting on Qantas’ interim target of 25 per cent by 2030, Snyder said it is “impossible to assess if they are on track”, adding that Qantas has “no clear plan or timeline to phase out the use of fossil fuels”.

UN experts have urged companies to reduce emissions rather than just relying on future technologies.

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia have announced emissions reductions that heavily rely on offsets, including buying credits from projects in Australia and overseas. Customers can also opt to pay for an individual offset when booking their flight.

Snyder said this strategy was comparable to KLMS’s.

“As a consumer flying with Qantas you could be forgiven for thinking that a few dollars for an offset at checkout means your flight makes no contribution to the climate crisis,” Snyder said.

Virgin Australia has made similar claims and both airlines plan to use SAF

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