Aviation and its damaging impact on climate change is starting to be discussed more and more. The problem, however, is, that none of the current strategies that target aviation‘s climate impact actually challenges the constant growth of the aviation sector. Instead, they pretend that flying could, in the future, become „climate neutral“ through technical improvements, biofuels and offsetting.

The Stay Grounded Network, in its position paper, makes clear that those are false solutions. The study „The Illusion of Green Flying“ points out the different short-falls and problems of the aviation sector‘s greenwashing strategy. The current instruments don‘t tackle the problem and shift the discussion away from the fact that we need to radically reduce aviation, especially in countries of the Global North. This is a necessary step to reach a just and ecological mobility system.

Decarbonizing aviation is an illusion – it‘s time to degrow aviation

So if the only solution is degrowth of the aviation sector and reducing flights – how do we get there? Aviation is closely linked with our transport system, with tourism, energy and global trade – and with our economic system based on constant growth and competition. Fast mobility is necessary for a capitalist globalized system – yet the faster, the more climate-harmful it is. Climate justice can only be achieved by questioning this model, by reorganizing mobility, regionalizing the economy, and overcoming global inequity. Still, there are still many steps to be taken towards this systemic change needed.

A mere reform of taxation schemes will not ultimately bring about the needed transformation – but which steps bring is closer to there, and which lead us away from those visions of an ecological and just society? Current policies of subsidization and non-taxation of the aviation sector are totally unjust and environmentally problematic. They directly feed the high, unrestrained growth of the aviation industry, leading to widespread, problematic hyper-mobile lifestyle choices, and travel and the normality of goods from everywhere anytime. In this conference, we discuss different instruments that could help to reduce aviation and the economic and social normalities it creates.

We excluded some potential measures right away because of being unjust in creating more problems than they solve, or because they don‘t have the capacity to bring about systemic changes. Among them are emissions trading, offsetting, „alternative“ fuels (biofuels, power to liquid), and the sole focus on efficiency of the engines. This conference will shift the discussion towards measures that might be more effective.

Let‘s start the discussion

The conference will discuss a series of questions, among them:

  • Does it make more sense to demand for market and price instruments (like different taxation) or to implement regulatory instruments like limits to the numbers of flight, moratoriums on airport projects or shutting down certain airports? Or all of them?
  • Does it make more sense to work bottom-up (individual behaviour change, voluntary changes of travel policies, grassroots pressure from below) or top-down (policy changes)? Or how can they play together in order to achieve systemic change?
  • What kind of taxation system would be socially just and lead towards a reduction of flights?
  • What role do institutions play in the rising demand for flights? How can and should they change their travel policies, to support environmentally friendly ways of travelling?
  • What kind of alternatives to flying exist and what is needed to improve them?
  • What role does tourism play in the discussion about degrowth of aviation? Do we need caps on tourism and if yes, how can that work?

The idea of the conference is to get into serious discussions about concrete ways to degrow aviation. Some of them might work within the current system. Some of them might challenge its foundations. They might lead towards the question of whether individual liberty should be restricted at the point where it violates the liberty of others. They should include considerations about the differences between countries in the Global North and the Global South and what kind of role international agreements and solutions must play.

However there won‘t be the space – and even the need – to mutually agree on a common manifesto or strategy. All of the discussed measures and strategies have their advantages and disadvantages, but their largest disadvantage is, that they are not publicly discussed the way they should. In the conference, we will fill this gap and hope to produce some outcomes that can be published as a collection of possible strategies to for degrowth of aviation in a just and sustainable way, and that can feed into more academic research and civil society campaigns.

Find the different working groups here.

Find more on the methodology of the conference here.