Climate change Which airlines are the most environmentally friendly?


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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that aviation is responsible for around 3.5 percent of anthropogenic climate change. That may not seem much, but it's important to tackle global warming on every front as the situation has been deteriorating really fast over the last 10 years with no sign of abating. The best way to limit CO2 emissions from commercial airlines is of course not to fly. But that is not always an option, and it driving in a non-electric car is not always better, especially when travelling alone. There is no reasonable alternative to flying in the case of intercontinental travel. What we can do to mitigate a bit our carbon footprint is to choose airlines that actively try to limit their CO2 emissions. In order to do that I have selected five indices that assess just that.

The most important of the five is the Atmosfair Airline Index (2018), which assesses the carbon efficiency of 190 airlines short, medium and long distance flights. Aircraft exhaust gases contain additional pollutants besides CO2. Those other pollutants are converted to CO2 equivalent emissions using the absolute global warming potential (AGWP) approach. The CO2 efficiency depends among others of the use of efficient types of aircraft, as well as passenger/cargo occupancy and seating/cargo capacity. I took the overall score for each airline and gave it twice the weight of other indices as this is the only index that calculate the actual CO2 emissions.

The Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) assesses companies’ preparedness for the transition to a low-carbon economy, supporting efforts to address climate change. Companies are rated on 19 factors relating to their policies, targets, reports to fight climate change. Airlines either pass or fail each criteria. I multiplied the number of passed criteria by 5 to get a maximum score of 95.

The S&P Global ESG (2019) assesses company's overall sustainability with regard to economic, environmental, and social factors. S&P (Standard & Poor's) is a New York-based company specialised in corporate ratings.

The CSRHub provides ratings of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) using 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance. CSRHub is a B Corporation based in New York.

CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) is an organisation based in the UK which supports companies and cities to disclose the environmental impact of major corporations, in this case only for climate change as scores for water security and forestry are irrelevant to the aviation industry. Scores are for 2019 or the latest year available.

CompanyAtmosfairTPIS&P GlobalCSRHubCDPTOTAL
TUI Airways79.3899585.65
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines68.977.5996074.86
LATAM Airlines78.847.5758573.02
Cathay Pacific61.8848071.90
Air New Zealand70.5866071.75
Air France54.577.581996071.08
British Airways54.487.5768070.46
Delta Airlines61.877.555599568.35
SAS Scandinavian Airlines53.4976065.95
China Airlines51.477638064.56
Qantas Airways61.467.5296710064.38
Japan Airlines63.947.556678063.05
United Airlines60.487.527479562.88
American Airlines58.747.530677556.15
Singapore Airlines56.537.524747553.92
Air Canada65.625516053.44
EVA Airways53.222588053.28
Korean Air55.937.5476051.26
Air China63.117.5206445.54
China Southern Airlines60.317.5145441.22

Low-cost airlines do not get a percentage score in the Atmosfair Index, but are ranked by category. In Europe Norwegian, Ryanair and Transavia obtained a B grade (corresponding to a score of 78 or above), which only the British charter TUI Airways and the South American LATAM Airlines got among regular airlines. No airline managed an A grade yet. On the other hand, Ryanair got abysmal scores from S&P Global and CSRHub.
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