The Future of Flying? New levers for aviation emissions reduction

Aviation could be responsible for a quarter of global emissions by 2050 if current growth rates continue. Technological solutions are simply insufficient to bring these emissions within a ‘safe’ threshold in time; demand reduction is critical to mitigate emissions in the short-term. For our January session of the Funders for Sustainable Living Network, we invited speakers from three organisations who are looking at demand reduction and what transformation of the aviation sector means in practice. Co-hosted by Anna Stratton of ClimateWorks Foundation, the session uncovered a wide breadth of innovative work that is currently being done to steer us away from Business as Usual:  

  • grassroots worker-led campaigning 
  • legal interventions 
  • corporate behaviour change  

In this blog post, we’ll highlight some key takeaways from our speakers from three ClimateWorks grantees: Safe Landing, Opportunity Green, and Transport & Environment 


Worker-First Grassroots Approaches & Bracing for the ‘Climate Crash’  


Finlay Asher, a former aerospace engineer at Rolls Royce, founded Safe Landing — an international collective of aviation workers. Safe Landing advocates for honesty about the environmental impact of flying and the realistic limits of technology, and asks for transparency around future regulations as well as the development of worker-led transition plans. They push for aviation workers’ assemblies, work with trade unions, and offer workshops for members to discuss and develop new narratives.   

Finlay argues that the aviation sector needs to be ready for a potential ‘climate crash’ in a way that protects aviation workers.  

“The problem is when we run out of a carbon budget, [when] we start to see massive climate breakdown, it’s going to become very difficult to maintain that social license to operate. And as people struggle to afford food, and [experience] mass migration, for there still to be that increase in air traffic feels very unlikely.”  

He asserts that reducing demand today will be important to stave off the worst impacts of a crash in the future.   



Legal Leverage: Pulling the Brakes on Aviation Investment, Airport Development, and SAF Greenwashing  

David Kay, representing Opportunity Green, showcased the potential for legal innovation and climate litigation in driving systemic change within difficult-to-address industries like aviation, shipping, buildings, and steel.   

Opportunity Green uses legal levers for radical transformation to challenge:  

  • Airport expansions, including a campaign in Crete to block a new airport with a capacity of 18 million passengers per year. Opportunity Green worked with locals who had lost their farmland and successfully delayed development when the Environmental Impact Report was rejected. They also challenged the European Investment Bank’s financing of the project.   
  • Investment into the aviation sector at a systemic level, such as a recent challenge against the EU Commission’s classification of aviation as a green investment, potentially enabling business-as-usual investments in marginally more efficient planes to be labeled ‘green’ and driving huge amounts of private finance to such investments   
  • Greenwashing in the aviation sector, particularly concerning sustainable aviation fuel (‘SAF’), by highlighting misleading claims and the need for consumer and investor protection  
  • Obligations regarding aviation and shipping emissions, including an upcoming submission to the International Court of Justice   



Not cleared for takeoff: demand management and behavior change for corporate travel   

Denise Auclair from Transport & Environment (T&E) shared work with corporate accountability, behaviour change, and establishing new norms to reduce demand for business flying. T&E’s 2022 Roadmap to Climate Neutral Aviation in Europe showed that a “50% reduction in corporate travel can get us halfway down the path of the emissions reductions we need [by] 2030.” And so far, it seems to be working — several major airlines announced in 2023 that they were seeing corporate travel return to just 60 to 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.   


Denise shared highlights of T&E’s Travel Smart campaign, which focuses on demand-side levers for reducing business travel. She highlighted the importance of positive framing, and of making sure that businesses recognise the advantages of flying less: cost savings, productivity gains and positive social benefits to employee wellbeing, as well as the essential contribution to short-term climate action. And an advantage to emphasising ‘purposeful travel’ and its multiple benefits has been that they have not faced any backlash from the aviation industry — “We thought maybe there would be a risk that we would be accused of killing the business travel industry or trying to, you know, attack the aviation industry; we haven’t gotten any of that pushback.”  

The other lever the Travel Smart campaign utilizes is reputational pressure: they’ve developed a ranking that lists 300 companies in Europe, the US, and India based on travel emissions targets and action towards reduction. The ranking brings visibility and accountability and helps to set sector-wide standards for sustainable business travel. In 2024-2025, Transport & Environment is planning an even more ambitious “No Excuses” campaign that will use peer comparison to motivate top flyers to set travel targets.  


En Route to ‘Sustainable’ Aviation

“There’s no silver bullet solution that will bring us to decarbonisation overnight,” said Anna Stratton, co-host of the event. What is needed is a broad range of approaches operating at all levels of society: from civil society organizations to corporate partners, technological innovation to legal intervention and even peer pressure. The transformations we need to see are wide-reaching and require collaboration and innovation at unprecedented rates.  

Throughout the session, our network discussed the need to speak honestly about the difficult scenarios we find ourselves in and face taboos head-on. We also grappled with some uncomfortable questions. Is there even such a thing as sustainable aviation at this point? Does focusing on private jets make us feel better about our own “normal” flying? How do we keep our hypocrisy in check, with regard to flying within the climate movement and environmental organisations?

Philanthropy can play an important role in this transition by supporting a wide array of approaches to aviation reduction and including more demand-side approaches. If you’re interested in investigating sustainable lifestyles alongside like-minded funders, consider joining the Funders for Sustainable Living Network, or the new Innovation Fund for Sustainable Living. 




Lauren Uba is a freelance facilitator for the Funders for Sustainable Living (F4SL), an open network promoting ambitious action for radically equitable and sustainable ways of living. It sounds depressing but it’s actually a lot of friendship and fun!   

If you are a funder curious about the connections between equality, ecology and society, feel welcome to join a future workshop:


Further reading


Safe Landing

Opportunity Green

Transport & Environment

On Key

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