What are the climate impacts of private jets?

Protesters on bicycles in front of a private jet at Schiphol Airport on November 5

There has been criticism on social media of delegates arriving at the United Nations COP27 Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The day before the conference began, hundreds of environmental activists stopped private jets leaving Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, sitting in front of their wheels and cycling around the airport.

How many private jets went to Sharm El Sheikh?

Data from FlightRadar24 shows that 36 private jets landed in Sharm El Sheikh between November 4 and 6, the start of the summit.

Another 64 flew to Cairo, 24 of which had come from Sharm El Sheikh.

The COP27 website says delegates should use any airport.

Nine of the flights came from the UK, while others came from European countries including Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Two were from the US in Cairo – one from Atlanta and one from Washington DC.

FlightRadar24 says there may have been more scheduled private flights that it was unable to track due to limited coverage in the area.

Map showing where private jets came from in Egypt

Map showing where private jets came from in Egypt

But fewer private jets appear to be flying to COP27 than COP26 in 2021 in Glasgow – BBC Reality Check investigated their use at the time.

One of the reasons for this may be that fewer world leaders have participated in the Sharm el-Sheikh summit so far.

What is the carbon footprint of private jet travel?

Flying produces greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) – from burning fuel. These contribute to global warming.

Emissions per kilometer traveled are significantly worse than any other form of transport.

This varies greatly depending on:

However, private jets generally produce far more emissions per passenger than commercial flights.

There are many different models of private jet, but the one most frequently flown in Egypt before Cop27 was the Gulfstream G650, which uses about 500 gallons (1,893 liters) of fuel per hour.

If a private jet had managed to take off from Amsterdam – despite the protests – it would have taken around five hours to reach Sharm el-Sheikh, using around 9,465 liters of jet fuel.

Protesters sit under a private jet at Schiphol Airport on November 5

Protesters sit under a private jet at Schiphol Airport on November 5

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) says 2.5kg (5.5lb) of CO2 is emitted for every liter of air turbine fuel burned. So this flight will produce 23.9 tons.

However, to “capture the maximum climate impact” of flying, BEIS recommends, CO2 emissions figures should be multiplied by 1.9 – to reflect non-CO2 emissions from high-altitude planes, which , scientists say, increase the warming effect.

Total emissions for this flight will therefore be 45.3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent – and with a capacity of 15, each passenger will be responsible for around three tonnes on their journey.

These emissions figures are estimates of actual travel – they do not include the emissions associated with the construction of the private jets.

If our COP27 delegates had chosen a commercial flight from Amsterdam to Egypt, assuming they traveled in premium class, their emissions would have been around half a tonne each, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) calculator.

Although a commercial flight uses more fuel per hour, it can fly many more passengers than a private jet and therefore produces fewer emissions per person.

The UK Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary arrived in a custom RAF Voyager aircraft which is a version of the Airbus A330-MRTT.

Airbus told BBC News that a typical flight would use between 5 and 5.5 tonnes of aviation fuel per hour, depending on factors such as the amount of cargo and altitude.

Using the government’s conversion factors, this means the flight to Sharm El Sheikh will have emitted between 79 and 87 tonnes of CO2. Using the BEIS multiplier results in 150 to 165 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

BBC News asked Downing Street how many other passengers were on the flight to Sharm El Sheikh, but No 10 did not say.

A government spokesman said: “This delegation traveled on one of the most carbon-efficient planes of its size in the world and the carbon emissions from these flights are also offset.”

The International Energy and Climate Information Unit he told BBC News that the focus on world leaders taking private jets to COP27 was “missing the point”.

“The emissions are negligible compared to the impact of the decisions and commitments made at these summits,” he said.

“If you want emissions down, you want leaders in the room and media, scientists and stakeholders asking the important questions.”

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