The last generation is now targeting the “rich”. On Tuesday, demonstrators sprayed orange on a private jet on Sylt, glued it on and hung up banners with statements like: “Your luxury = our drought”. The activists are convinced that the super-rich are making a disproportionate contribution to the climate crisis (read more about the campaign here). You are not entirely wrong in your assumption. According to the non-governmental organization Oxfam, 125 billionaires emit as many greenhouse gases a year as all of France. Through consumption, luxury villas, yachts – and private jets.

For the general public, private jets arguably fly under the radar. Nevertheless, the number of privately used flights is steadily increasing. Such a plane, each with a handful of passengers, took off from Germany more than 58,000 times in 2022. This is shown by a survey by the Dutch consulting firm CE Delft commissioned by Greenpeace. In 2021 there were a good 33,000, at the peak of the corona pandemic in 2020 there were around 13,000.

The distances were shorter than one might expect. The route most flown was Berlin-Cologne. The shortest route between Friedrichshafen and Altenrhein was just 22 kilometers across Lake Constance. But the effects of these mini routes are enormous in terms of climate impact. An analysis by the environmental organization “Transport and Environment” came to the same conclusion: “Only one percent of people cause 50 percent of global air traffic emissions.”

The problem: A particularly large number of emissions are emitted during take-offs and landings. This affects the carbon footprint. If you convert the balance of a flight to individual passengers, the consumption increases the fewer people are sitting in a plane and the more space they need.

This is also shown by a simulation by the British data processor “Real World Visual”. On a fictional flight from London to New York, a passenger in economy class consumes 313 kilograms of CO2. A business class passenger consumes 947 kilograms and a first class passenger consumes 2.8 tons of CO2. The private jet flies completely unrivaled, there it is 25 tons of CO2 per capita for a single long-haul flight. For comparison: A person living in Germany emits around 10.8 tons per year, according to the Federal Environment Ministry.

In addition, those who are not called Taylor Swift, Elon Musk or Kim Kardashian usually charter the plane, i.e. rent a kind of flight taxi from a company. The plane then picks up the travelers at the desired location, takes them to their destination and then flies back to the company location – often empty. This was also shown by research by NDR and SZ.

However, like other aircraft, private jets not only emit CO2. They also emit nitrogen oxides and water vapour, which are also harmful to the environment and contribute to global warming.

Overall, however, air traffic accounts for a rather small part of global CO2 emissions, measured against the current consumption of the world population. According to the Federal Association of the German Aviation Industry, air traffic accounted for 3.1 percent in 2019 – road traffic, on the other hand, was around 18 percent. Measured against their climate goals, both Germany and the European Union would have to limit their CO2 emissions holistically and drastically.

All in all, tourism researcher Stefan Gössling criticizes the increasing use of private jets, especially on short routes. He told Deutschlandfunk: “The number of millionaires is growing and with it the emissions that arise from these private flight trips. That means we have to start saving emissions where a lot is emitted.”

Quellen:  Oxfam, Greenpeace, Real World Visuals, CE Delft, Transport