Dutch national carrier KLM is among 17 airlines targeted in a complaint brought by consumer organisations across Europe for running climate-related flight compensation schemes that are “pure greenwashing”.
European consumer organisation BEUC and 22 of its member groups in 18 countries announced on Thursday they are filing a complaint to the European Commission and the network of consumer protection authorities against misleading claims by airlines.
The complaint focuses on climate-related programmes and CO2 emission offsetting schemes that lead passengers to believe that “they are choosing a sustainable transport mode”. Consumer groups say these schemes breach EU rules against unfair commercial practices.
The organisations are calling on EU and national consumers authorities to open coordinated investigations over “green” fees and schemes to “offset”, “neutralise” or “compensate” the environmental impacts of flights. As a result of the action, national authorities could decide to impose fines, a BEUC spokesperson said.
The authorities should also request airlines reimburse their customers for the payments they made into such programmes or dedicate the fees to an environmental or consumer protection cause, the group says.
The airlines targeted by the action are Air Baltic, Air Dolomiti, Air France, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, Finnair, KLM, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Ryanair, SAS, Swiss, TAP, Volotea, Vueling and Wizz Air.
For KLM, the complaint is about the “CO2 Impact Programme”, which invites travellers to compensate for the expected carbon emissions of their flights with a voluntary contribution to restore forests and/or invest in sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).
These fuels can be produced from a variety of alternative resources, such as used cooking oil, forestry and agriculture residues, organic municipal waste, algae, or carbon captured from the air, and are mixed with fossil fuels in aircraft tanks.
“CO₂ emissions are reduced by 80% when using this fuel, based on lifecycle analysis,” says the KLM website.
Consumer organisations however argue “such fuels are not market-ready and recently adopted EU legislation sets very low targets for how much they should represent in aircrafts’ fuel mix”.
KLM’s own climate action plan says SAFs added to flights departing Amsterdam accounted for 0.5% of total kerosene use in 2022 and 1% so far in 2023.
“Whether you pay a ‘green fare’ or not, your flight will still emit climate-harmful gases. Technological solutions to decarbonise aviation won’t become a massive-scale reality any time soon, so depicting flying as a sustainable mode of transport is pure greenwashing. At a time when many want to travel more sustainably, airlines should urgently stop offering consumers a fake peace of mind,” said BEUC’s deputy director Ursula Pachl.
“We don’t want to discourage airlines to contribute to climate protection projects, but these should never be presented as ‘neutralised’, ‘offset’ or ‘compensated’ emissions that consumers produce when they are using airlines services,” she added.
Patrycja Gautier, BEUC senior legal officer, added that “the potential coordinated enforcement action that would be launched by the authorities is without prejudice to pending legal actions”.
KLM is already at the centre of a legal case for misleading advertising brought by environmental campaign group Fossielvrij and supported by ClientEarth.
In 2022, the Dutch advertising watchdog also ruled that a KLM ad with the tagline “Be a hero, fly CO2 zero” was misleading.
KLM has not yet commented on the latest action.
The airline’s annual report says the company has “committed to being more transparent about progress on our sustainability goals” recognising that several NGOs “have been critical” of its approach.
“The Dutch NGO Fossielvrij NL has taken us to court claiming our communication around sustainability is misleading. We value the conversations we had with the environmental NGO Milieudefensie and we are taking their criticism to heart, although we continue to believe in the quality of our plans,” the report says.
Dutch News has asked Milieudefensie to comment on the new case.
Thank you for donating to DutchNews.nl.
We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.Make a donation